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Council deliberates on 10-year trash agreement

City Council postpones decision on Allied Waste contract

By Elizabeth Celms

Mercer Island Reporter

The Mercer Island City Council revisited the city’s proposed Allied Waste renewal contract last Monday and agreed to return the document back to city staff for further tweaking. The City Council was dissatisfied with a few proposals in the 10-year contract; namely, Allied Waste’s plan to increase garbage collection rates by 15 percent come September.

“We should be asking you to push the 15 percent off a year and give the rate payers a break in 2009,” said Councilmember Dan Grausz, who ardently opposed Allied’s rate-increase proposal. “To give you that profit margin, that return on investment through a 15 percent increase — I have a real problem with that.”

Allied had offered an alternative rate increase of 13 percent, with an additional 3 percent increase to help fund truck replacements, which will cost a total of $240,000. Once 2011 arrives, rates would increase by about 5 percent for two years. Increases in the following years would be for CPI only.

As a whole, the Council was unable to agree on either proposal, and therefore decided to return the renewal contract to the city’s Utility Board for further review.

Mayor Jim Pearman, who supports the Utility Board’s proposed Allied Waste contract, said that he decided to postpone approving the agenda item due to the agreement’s complicity and the current economic climate.

“What we’re trying to do is find the majority to support a specific rate increase. The big thing is, it’s a very complicated deal. Its not just 15 percent flat; it’s not as easy as that,” he said. “But at face value, we’ve got people in this economy concerned when they see 15 percent. We want to make really sure that we’ve done our due diligence to do the right thing.”

Councilmembers also proposed the possibility of postponing the Allied Waste renewal contract for another year, thus allowing more time before a rate increase is set in stone.

“By voting for the extension, this would give time for a few more things [in the contract] to be vetted out,” Pearman said.

Another topic of concern was purchasing new garbage trucks for the Island. Allied has proposed the replacement of a 16-year-old truck in 2010 with a smaller vehicle, which will better navigate the Island’s winding roads. The estimated cost of this replacement is $230,000. Allied has also proposed buying hybrid trucks — vehicles that use two or more power sources, most often fuel and electric power — for Mercer Island. Such decisions will be further examined by the Utility Board.

The new 10-year agreement with Allied Waste, which replaces the Island’s expired contract, will also ensure better solid-waste service for Island residents, according to Allied representatives.

Allied Waste has promised to provide back-up service during inclement weather, such as last winter’s six-day snowstorm. Additionally, the contract states that Allied will collect yard waste every other week for three months during the winter instead of monthly.

The City Council first discussed the proposed Allied Waste Contract at its July 6 meeting. The Council suggested several changes to the document — offering a perspective on how staff might strike a balance between meeting the Council’s cost-saving and quality-of-service interests — and returned it to the Utility Board for review.

As of last Monday’s City Council meeting, the draft contract will once again return to the Utility Board for further review. Councilmembers will re-address the topic in September.

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