Election will decide trash service provider
Voters to decide city trash provider
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
A glass recycling dumpster sits at Seward/Kenai Peninsula Borough waste transfer facility run by Alaska Waste Inc. Alaska Waste was selected through the city’s RFP process and now voters must decide on the contract.
Registered City of Seward voters will be asked to approve or reject ballot measure Proposition 2 at regular city municipal election Oct. 2. establishing a 7-year franchise agreement with Waste Connections of Alaska, Inc ., otherwise known as Alaska Waste/Kenai Peninsula Inc ., for the collection and disposal of their garbage and refuse. The city council could extend its contract with Alaska Waste for another three years.
City residents and building owners are required to pay municipal garbage pickup charges regardless of whether or not they use it, so this contract is especially important to consider. Plus, the company openly admits customers will face increases in rates — but is sweetening the deal with new, and better services that the community had wanted.
Alaska Waste (or Waste Connections) is the company that currently picks up the city’s garbage, and operates the transfer facility at Forest Acres for the Kenai Peninsula Borough. It also received the highest point rating in the city’s recent request for proposals (RFP) process. The other companies bidding were Alaska Pacific Environmental Services, LLC, and Mid-State Truck and Trailer LLC, of Juneau.
Knowing that the contract would go before the voters, the city pointedly asked bidders to reveal the cost increases that their customers could expect over the length of the contract. Alaska Waste said it would increase its rates by 25 percent in the first year. In each of the following years, however, rates would be adjusted annually to 140 percent of the CPI or Consumer Price Index. Those increases would not subject to council approval, but there would still be periodic rate reviews established by the council.
The CPI is based on the cost of several basic living items (excluding fuel prices), and it rises or falls according to whether the economy is experiencing inflation or deflation, said Kris Erchinger, the city finance director. In 2009, the CPI was as high as 4.8 percent, but it was considerably lower in 2010. Alaska Waste’s bid overall, and the rate increases it proposes are reasonable when compared to rates in other cities, including Anchorage, said City Finance Director Kris Erchinger.
Before screaming, or voting “no” at the ballot box, consider this. If the voters reject the contract, the city still is mandated to provide waste collection service for its residents. So the city will either have to extend the existing contract, put out another request for proposals, hoping to get a lower bid, which also must go before the voters, or look into the city providing the service itself, said Erchinger. One of the three companies bidding for the contract had rates almost double those of Alaska Waste, while the other companies came close behind AW in terms of cost, but rated lower in other areas, she said. If the city ran the service, it would have purchase new trucks and equipment, and might also have to hire more employees, she said. Meanwhile, the trend has been to reduce the reach of city government, rather than growing it.
The city’s RFP also rated the companies for other things including weight structure, mechanical structure, the firm’s overall experience, and even bear awareness, which is a new consideration reflecting ongoing bear problems in the community, and was recommended by an area wildlife conservation coalition that included the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Seward Police Department.
As an incentive for residents to handle their garbage properly, the 25 percent rate increase next year would only apply to those without bear resistant garbage cans or dumpsters. Alaska Waste also would rent out bear-resistant trash cans for an additional $2 per month during the active bear season. It also would rent out bear-resistant dumpster lids. A person found in violation of city bear/trash laws, could waive their first city fine of $100 by renting a bear resistant trash can, or dumpster lid within 30 days. The company also is offering another new service: curbside pickup for bulky materials such as old stoves and refrigerators.
Opposition to the ballot proposition at the council level ranged from Rissie Casagranda, who said, “If I ran my business based on the CPI, I’d be out of business,” to Bob Valdatta, a van driver, who questioned why the company had not tied potential rate increases to variable fuel prices, which are “killing” those in the driving business, he said. A citizen who chose to remain unidentified, told the council that Alaska Waste’s fleet of trucks was unnecessary, and that a truck or two could pick up all of Seward’s trash within a couple of hours. But on the whole, council reaction appeared to be that Alaska Waste remains the largest, experienced company, serving the entire Kenai Peninsula, much of Anchorage, and municipalities across the state, with assets already in place in Seward, and that despite the rate increases, Seward couldn’t do much better than that.