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Aberdeen trashes plan to outsource garbage pickup to GFL; in-house collection to continue another year

The city of Aberdeen will defer contracting its trash collection services out to GFL after the city’s Department of Public Works and company officials concluded the firm would not be able to handle the workload.

In lieu of GFL’s services, the city accounted for two trash trucks and another employee — bringing the total number of refuse collection staff in the city to nine — in the budget it also approved at a Monday night meeting of the city council.

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Monday’s decision on trash collection does not close the door on future privatization, Mayor Patrick McGrady said. The city will reexamine the issue and put out a new bid in the fall, he said.

A City of Aberdeen trash truck backs one of the city's garage at the Department of Public Works building in this file photo.
A City of Aberdeen trash truck backs one of the city's garage at the Department of Public Works building in this file photo. (MATT BUTTON/THE AEGIS / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The city council narrowly voted in April to authorize its department of public works to negotiate a contract with GFL — one of four private trash collection entities authorized to operate in Harford County. In the process of doing its due diligence and querying the company about two weeks ago, the city and GFL agreed that the company would not be able to handle the city’s refuse collection because of staffing issues, McGrady said.

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The company did not have those staffing issues when it put in a bid to take over for the Aberdeen’s beleaguered trash service, he said. GFL’s bid was $1.28 million, with room for annual growth.

“In trying to understand if they were going to be able to deliver on the commitment that they made, it became evident the staffing ability was not there,” McGrady said.

Because no contract had been signed, an agreement between the city and company is on a “strategic pause,” McGrady said. What that means for Aberdeen residents is that the city will move to a five-zone trash pickup schedule Monday through Friday starting in August. Previously, trash was collected Monday through Thursday. Yard waste service will also be limited to six months out of the year.

“With the number of trucks and the number of crew members we have, it’s not feasible to do it any other way,” McGrady said.

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McGrady said he and director of public works Kyle Torster plan to release a video explaining the changes to residents in the near future.

The service is budgeted for $2,000 more this coming year than the current fiscal year. The costs of the additional equipment and staff were partially offset by not budgeting money for a vehicle lift in the city’s shop, McGrady said.

Additions to the city’s waste management staff and trash trucks do not account for future needs, and any permanent plan to expand the trash service would be a more expensive proposition, McGrady said. He credited GFL for a clear-eyed assessment of its ability to collect trash for the city, even if it meant there would be no agreement.

Written into the bid that GFL eventually won was a bond that could be revoked should the contractor fail to provide adequate service to the city. If the service was not being delivered, the city could “call” that bond — which is insured by a third party surety — and find another company to handle the work.

Councilman Jason Kolligs also credited GFL for acknowledging its limitations. He said the collapse of the agreement was an “unfortunate setback,” but one preferable to receiving inadequate service.

“I will acknowledge that this was a win in the idea that we held fast on the level of service,” he said. “It’s way better than the alternative of them saying they can do it and then not do it.”

Councilman Adam Hiob, who voted to keep the trash service in-house, said he would still like to see the city continue to handle refuse collection and expressed frustration that the matter was voted on before all the information was collected. City residents roundly approve of the in-house service, he said.

“The City made a mistake and we must move forward cautiously while looking out for our residents and employees first,” Hiob said.

Though it is viewed favorably by most residents, according to a survey the city conducted, Aberdeen’s trash collection services have grown strained. The city’s trucks are old and frequently require repair; its staff is small and the number of homes requiring collection is growing — hence its move to five pickup zones.

GFL, in turn, had a larger fleet than the city, and it was reasoned that it could provide a more consistent service than a city-run operation with few trucks at its disposal. Expanding the in-house service would have required a new facility, more trucks and more employees, according to estimates by the department of public works.

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