City garbage contract still smells

City garbage contract still smells

By Jeff Havens, Staff Writer

Citing immediate savings for taxpayers in tough economic times and greater flexibility in transferring money from different funds, Rockford officials voted Monday to alter and extend existing garbage contracts with Winnebago Reclamation, Inc., and Rock River Disposal Services until the end of 2013. Both garbage companies are subsidiaries of the Waste Group and William Charles, Ltd.–all politically well-connected companies.

Before the vote, aldermen congratulated each other for saving the city $2.5 million during the next 18 months. Critics argued the contract is too long and the negotiated collection and disposal rates too high.

Aldermen voted 13-1 for the altered contract that addressed many contingencies that were brought forth last fall by Alderman Frank Beach (R-10) and Times articles. Some of the contingencies were: not using the Consumer Price Index to determine interest rate and lack of verification process that the city received the lowest dumping rate.

Beach said the new contract addresses these issues and will bring immediate savings to taxpayers and allow the city to transfer $83,000 per month from the sanitary fund to the general fund. The savings combined with the flexibility of fund usage will allow the city to better deal with the more than $7 million budget deficit, Beach said.

City officials rejected arguments from Alderman Bill Timm (R-9) and Kevin Shaw, general manager of Onyx Orchard Hills Landfill in Davis Junction, that asked that the garbage collection and disposal contracts be out for competitive bids. Timm cast the lone vote against the contracts

Sources said Pagel Pit on Linden Road., the final destination for Rockford’s garbage, is projected to close in 2005 after its capacity is reached. The pit reportedly accepts 1,000-1,200 tons of trash per day. The city dumps about 60,000 tons of garbage into the pit each year. Gary Marzorati, president of Winnebago Reclamation, said that even if the pit did close, “the city would still have received all the financial benefit from the restructuring of the current contract.”

Shaw argued, “An open bid process and a level playing field are the only way to provide taxpayers with the greatest possible savings.” With the contract that was approved Monday, Shaw said taxpayers will never know how much could have been saved.

According to Shaw, Orchard Hills won’t be filled to capacity for another 25-40 years. Orchard Hills accepts about 4,500 tons of refuse per day. Shaw said during negotiations in April, city officials wanted Onyx to not only meet Winnebago Reclamation’s terms but exceed them.

Shaw said city officials wanted to recoup from Onyx the perceived $2.5 million savings from the already grossly inflated dumping rate that the former contract imposed on Rockford by Winnebago Reclamation and contract negotiators for the city. Beach said the savings are real because without the contract extension, the city would be forced to abide by the old contract’s terms that expired at the end of 2004.

Critics counter that Winnebago Reclamation should have renegotiated the old contract without any attached strings because the 2003, $55.47 per ton dumping rate was so far off the market dumping rates of $19.70 per ton in Janesville, Wis., and offered $25 per ton at Orchard Hills. The critics also said that at the end of the old contracts, both should have been subjected to the competitive bidding process.

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