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Aberdeen city council narrowly votes to outsource trash collection to GFL after months of debate

The Aberdeen City Council voted to outsource its municipal refuse collection to GFL, a private waste management company, after months of consideration, public comment and back-and-forth.

Mayor Patrick McGrady, councilman Jason Kolligs and councilwoman Sandra Landbeck voted Monday to approve going with GFL. Councilmen Adam Hiob and Timothy Lindecamp voted against outsourcing the service. Accordingly, the upcoming fiscal year’s budget will be drafted to include the private service.

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The city received two bids to take over the trash service, with GFL proposing $1.28 million for the first year and MBG Enterprises proposing $1.45 million the first year — both providing room for annual growth and including all the services the existing city run trash collection provides. Those prices did not include costs the city would incur for its side of the partnership, like a city employee paid to manage the partnership along with other sundry expenses.

After casting his vote for privatization, Kolligs explained that the city’s beleaguered trash service was in the process of failing and had to change. He said citizens’ real concerns were with the trash service being worse than it currently is, not whether the service remains city run. To that end, because GFL has a larger fleet of trucks, he said they could respond to breakdowns more efficiently than the city can with its limited number of aging trucks.

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In March, the Department of Public Works formally submitted a request to the city council to outsource the service to GFL.

“You do not want it to be worse than it is now,” Kolligs said. “You know who really does not? DPW — those people love and respect this community.”

Kolligs said the company’s size and the nature of the city’s agreement with it will ensure better service; it is likely the company will prioritize its agreement with Aberdeen over contracts with individuals. Customer service for residents receiving the private service will also be through the city.

Hiob voted against privatizing the trash service, saying that he thought the savings would be minimal and noting that the majority of people who he spoke to had nothing good to say about GFL. The loss of city oversight and control over collection worried him as well, coupled with the low number of bids Aberdeen received. If the deal with GFL does not work out, he reasoned, then the remaining bidder could step in and take advantage of the city’s predicament.

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“We have the space at DPW to support this,” he said. “Our residents clearly want this to stay in house ... every one I have talked to has nothing positive to stay about GFL.”

Lindecamp also voted to keep the trash service in-house, saying that he thought the city could handle the job with expansion and pointing to how city residents are overwhelmingly satisfied with the trash service they receive now. It was important to not rush such a large decision, he said, especially considering the costs of restarting the city’s trash collection program if outsourcing the service does not work out.

“It is breaking, but it isn’t broke, and I think we’ve done some poor planning,” he said.

Over the course of two public comment sessions at the Monday meeting, multiple citizens expressed concern and then disappointment in the outcome of the vote, arguing that the city-run service was more dependable than a private company and citing negative impressions — and Google reviews — of GFL. They worried about the company’s accountability, citing times they or their relatives and friends have unsuccessfully attempted to contact the company.

Aberdeen resident Mark Schlottman said he was disappointed in the council for its vote, but hopes it works out for the city.

“If they miss one collection of my trash, that would be 100% failure compared to 26 years I’ve had here in the city,” he said. “If we continue to privatize things, let’s turn in our charter and become part of the county.”

In early March, the city’s Department of Public Works formally requested that the council hire an outside company to handle refuse collection in the city. The recommendation states the first year of private service would cost $1.28 million and provide trash, recycling and 10 months of yard waste collection, but the city can mix and match the services it will receive.

Price increases are accounted for in subsequent years, and the service would cost about $1.38 million in the fourth year of the agreement.

Alternatively, if the city had kept trash collection in-house, it would have needed to greatly expand its existing trash services at a cost of an estimated $2 million in the coming fiscal year. A large portion of that would have gone toward one-time capital expenses, including three new trash trucks, another heavy duty lift, constructing a new concrete pad and pole barn. The city would also have needed to hire four new people, including a mechanic.

That would have given the city what it immediately needed by July to continue the service, but not what it would need up to 10 years down the road, officials said. Estimated costs quickly flattened after FY22 but were still over $300,000 more costly than the current fiscal year’s price for trash collection, approximately $1 million, according to figures from DPW.

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