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Aberdeen public works requests city council approval to outsource trash collection services

Aberdeen’s Department of Public Works formally submitted a request to the city council to outsource the city’s beleaguered trash service to GFL, a waste management company that services several counties and municipalities in Maryland.

At a Monday meeting of the council, public works staff provided city leaders with a memorandum requesting approval for the partnership. 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. Price increases are accounted for in subsequent years, and the service would cost about $1.38 million in the fourth year of the agreement.

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If approved, the city would have the option of renewing its agreement with the company up to 10 years, the document states.

Director of Public Works Kyle Torster said staff made the recommendation by weighing the company’s price, performance, size and performance plan submitted to the city. The terms of the recommendation before the council can still be modified, Torster said.

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Refuse collection has been a developing issue in Aberdeen. While the majority of residents are happy with the city’s trash collection service, reports from the department of public works show that it would have to expand to handle the increasing number of stops in the city. City trucks are old and frequently break down, and the hours are long for the small crew doing the job collecting trash from existing 4,600 stops today, the department has reported. That led the city to consider whether it should handle refuse collection in-house or contract it out to a private company.

The council has yet to make a decision on the matter, but their response needs to be timely, Mayor Patrick McGrady said, because of the upcoming budget season. He said the council plans to make a decision on the service’s direction at its next meeting on March 22.

At Monday’s meeting, councilmen Jason Kolligs and Tim Lindecamp expressed some concern over the cost of yard waste collection. Noting that yard waste collection would cost over $139,000 in the first year, Kolligs recommended reducing or eliminating yard waste collection in view of the number of citizens who actually use it, which he believes is small for the cost, and allowing private businesses to handle any demand for yard waste collection. Lindecamp agreed and said it could be done away with.

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 city currently 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.

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Michael Collins, GFL’s general manager in Harford County, said Monday that safety of the crews and customers is the company’s number one priority. The company maintains a much larger fleet of trucks than Aberdeen, which can only count on about four working on any given day, McGrady said.

In the past, the city contracted with an outside company for trash pickup, but ran into accountability issues. If approved, the new service would be guaranteed by a bond the city could call upon if the waste management company fails to live up to its end of the bargain, according to the bid. That bond would be ensured by a third-party surety.

In Havre de Grace, which GFL also services, Collins said that citizen complaints about a missed pick-up are routed through the city to GFL, which can send another truck from its fleet out to collect any missed cans. All the trucks are equipped with GPS technology and cameras, he said, in case a closer review of an issue is needed.

“We are able to respond to [a complaint] in minutes,” Collins said.

Collins said the company does not send trucks out on unplowed roads for safety reasons, but its size allows it to send more trucks to adjust for inclement weather. As an example, Collins said the company had to delay trash pick up in Havre de Grace during February’s snow storms, but was able to send six trash trucks after roads were cleared — more than Aberdeen has in total, but only a fraction of the company’s fleet.

The company would also use the city’s trash toters, if the council decides to proceed with the agreement.

Collins further explained that the annual cost increases are to keep up with the prices of employee insurance and fuel.

Expanding the city’s in-house trash service, Torster said, would require the city to buy three trash trucks, another heavy-duty lift, construct a new concrete pad and pole barn, and hire four new people, one of whom must be a mechanic. That would give the city what it immediately needs for July 2021 to continue the service, but not what it will need up to 10 years down the road, he said.

If the city’s services were expanded, it would have to add another zone to its collection schedule. Currently, Aberdeen has four collection zones, which each have their trash picked up one day a week. Expanding the trash service over the next 10 years would also mean constructing a new 24,000 square-foot facility for the vehicles.

The cost of expanding the in-house trash service adds up to an estimated $2 million expense for the city in the coming fiscal year, according to a February presentation, with a large portion of it going to one-time capital requests like new trucks. Estimated costs quickly flatten after FY22 but are still over $300,000 more costly than the current fiscal year’s price for trash collection, approximately $1 million.

At a Sept. 10 listening session, city residents took a poll on directions the trash service could go. Over 70% of respondents said they would prefer to keep the service in-house. A majority also said they would not want to see a reduction in services.

Councilman Adam Hiob said he was leaning toward voting to keep the service in-house. One of the most major issues, he said, is the loss of city control over the service in view of the few waste management companies operating in the county. If the agreement were to sour, he said, the city would only have one other company to turn to, having likely sold its own trash trucks.

Hiob said that the costs of outsourcing the service was roughly equivalent to the cost of bolstering its in-house offerings. The city also does not realize a savings on its payroll, he said, if it contracts the service out because the city’s existing environmental staff would have to be reshuffled around the public works department, possibly needing training and incurring other costs.

“Given the cost factor being understood, the ability to remain fully in control and provide our residents with something they like — particularly with our current tax rates — it is my opinion that based on the information I have that retaining the service in-house is the best way to go for Aberdeen,” he said.

Apartments and businesses in the city do not receive its trash service, though the costs of it are factored into their leases and expenses. They are required to secure their own waste removal service, though they, effectively, subsidize the city’s collection efforts without seeing any benefit.

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