Waste hauling issue may go to public vote

Final contract details outlined at council workshop

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/20/20

A two-plus-years discussion on if Arvada should contract with just one waste hauling company could come to an end with a decision June 15 — or it could go to a vote of the people in November. At a …

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Waste hauling issue may go to public vote

Final contract details outlined at council workshop

Posted

Update: On May 21, city manager Mark Deven said that Republic Services will rescind its offer should council choose to put a waste hauling question on the ballot. Council can still make the decision to do so, but a new contract will have to be negotiated with either Republic or another hauler.

A two-plus-years discussion on if Arvada should contract with just one waste hauling company could come to an end with a decision June 15 — or it could go to a vote of the people in November.

At a May 12 council workshop, Mayor Marc Williams requested that city staff ask the waste hauling company in question, Republic Services, if it would still contract with Arvada if the city put the issue to a public vote. Those arrangements are being made now, Williams said in a May 13 interview. If Republic agrees, council will vote June 15 to either make the decision themselves or hold a vote in November.

But councilmember John Marriott said in an interview that he believes that choice shouldn’t be up to an outside company, and regardless of Republic’s agreement, he plans to start this discussion at the June 15 public hearing.

“To avoid really splitting the community up, I think it’s important that the community decides it. My guess is on June 15, the council’s going to decide whether to pass it or put it up to a vote of the people” regardless of Republic’s decision, he said. “The timing couldn’t be better (for a vote); it wouldn’t be very much of a delay at all and it would allow the summer for residents to find out more about it.”

In the meantime, the May 12 workshop was a chance to get specific details of the contract out into the open.

Arvadans have been split on the idea throughout the process, reflected in the emails Williams and Marriott have received from residents. Marriott estimated that in recent weeks, he has received more than a dozen emails on the subject per day; in the same timeframe, Williams estimated he has received more than 20 a day.

Both said residents appear evenly split, with about half opposed to the switch and half in favor.

“It’s the most I’ve ever heard about a single subject in six years on council,” Marriott said.

A hauling head-to-head

On one side, some believe the contract will create a monopoly; some like the trash service they are using now and oppose the opt-out fee they would need to pay to keep their service; and some are against the city dictating residents’ choice in the matter, Williams said.

On the other side, residents say the switch will encourage recycling and composting — a 2015 Arvada survey showed only 13% of residents' waste is recycled. It will also reduce the number of heavy trucks on the road and decrease noise and air pollution. Each of these reasons was cited by more than 500 residents in a 2019 Arvada survey.

Under the contract, about 32,000 non-HOA homes would receive trash and recycling services, as well as others like bulky item drop-off events, through Republic Services. The contract lasts five years and may be renewed for two additional years.

Based on what size trash cart they select, residents would pay anywhere from $11.50 to $19.90 per month. The city has found that these rates are lower than what the average non-HOA resident is paying now, between $20 and $29 monthly, said Kate Bailey, director with consultant Eco-Cycle Solutions.

After two years, Republic can increase prices up to 3.5% each year based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Based on previous CPI increases, it’s safe to assume that every year, the price will almost always increase by that maximum of 3.5%, Marriott said. Additionally, rates will be subject to regulatory fee increases, which affect all waste hauling customers and are not unique to the city’s contract.

Rates could also increase if the city incurs additional costs, such as recycling rate increases, unexpected customer service costs or the replacement of broken carts, Marriott said. He added that as of now, those values are still unknown.

But the biggest issue for Marriott and some in opposition is that while residents can contract with their own hauler instead of Republic, the city will still charge them a monthly $5.13 fee.

“There’s a fee for a service you don’t get. You could call it a penalty, a subsidy … It does not seem right to me and I don’t think that fee is necessary,” Marriott said. “If this wasn’t a vote of the people and there was no fee to opt out, I would vote yes. I think this would be a great option.”

But councilmember Nancy Ford said in the workshop that “there is a cost to choice.”

“By valuing choice over reduction of trucks on our roads, they are part of a contribution on the wearing on our roads, which is exactly why we’re trying to do this program,” Ford said. “We’re using community vitality as one of our goals here.”

To help quantify the benefit of reducing trucks on the road, one metric Golden has used — the city contracts with just one hauler — is data that shows a fully loaded trash truck has the impact of 1,200 cars on the road, said Golden’s Sustainability Coordinator Theresa Worsham.

Meanwhile, Arvada has estimated that if the program begins as planned, anywhere from 1% to 3% of non-HOA residents will opt out.

As a point of comparison, Golden has seen 2% of possible accounts opt out for a minimum service fee.

In Thornton — where residents opt into a trash service operated by the city itself — about 10% of possible accounts do not opt in, but they can do so for free, said environmental services manager Mark Niceley.

Meanwhile, with the information about Arvada’s contract on the table, residents will now have a chance to review those details through the workshop video posted on the City of Arvada YouTube page. Additional information and upcoming public engagement opportunities will be available at arvada.org/waste-hauling, city communications manager Ben Irwin said.

The public hearing will go forward June 15, but because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s undecided how residents will participate, Williams said.

At the least, residents could send emails to be part of the meeting; at most, residents may have socially distant options to come to city hall or log in to the meeting via video chat, Williams said, depending on public health guidelines at that time.

“That’s a huge discussion right now,” he said, but regardless of how the public can participate, on June 15, “we will be able to get a resolution.”

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