City mulls garbage contracts

Angeli

MARQUETTE — Garbage and recycling collection may change in the city come fall, since a competitive bid has shown cart collection would be cheaper than the current green bag system.

But some additional concerns came up during a discussion last week with the Marquette City Commission and city staff.

At a special work session, staff presented three alternatives involving three bidders for either seven- or 10-year contracts starting in October, with the option to keep the green bags, replace them with covered rolling carts or potentially use a flexible hybrid system.

Costs for garbage and recycling services are passed directly to residents through utility fees.

“From looking at the bid proposals, it’s kind of obvious that the cart option is considerably cheaper than the bag option,” said City Manager Mike Angeli, adding however that some residents may still prefer the bags. “We have to have some direction (from the commission) at this point, I think, on how you want us to proceed. If we transition to another carrier, it will take time to do that, so we’d like to try to move ahead as quickly as we can.”

Potential impacts to the Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority’s recycling program, local taxes, jobs and other concerns divided commissioners on the issue, which will be decided at an upcoming commission meeting.

The three bidders were current contractor Waste Management, a global company based in Texas with facilities in Marquette; North Country Disposal of Marquette; and Eagle Waste of Eagle River, Wisconsin.

Each bid on multiple contracts and alternatives.

For city facility collection, including parks and campgrounds, the straightforward recommendation of staff is to go with low bidder North Country Disposal.

For rubbish drop-off hauling, staff recommends low-bidder Eagle Waste. But that bid is only valid if Eagle Waste wins the residential curbside contract. If not, the low bidder is North Country Disposal.

For a seven-year curbside residential garbage and recycling contract — what the city has now — Waste Management was the low bidder for a total cost of $3.7 million, or $7.1 million including the cost of bags.

For the seven-year curbside cart collection contract, Waste Management was again the low bidder for a total cost of $6.6 million.

But for a 10-year curbside cart collection contract, Eagle Waste was the low bidder at $8 million.

The projected average annual cost per customer over the life of each contract would be $164 for the seven-year green bag contract through Waste Management, $153 for the seven-year cart contract through Waste Management and $130 for the 10-year cart contract through Eagle Waste.

Commissioner Sarah Reynolds said she supported the carts due to the cost of the bags and the way recycling gets blown around neighborhoods, but said she plans to gather more input from the community.

“I hate the green bags,” Reynolds said. “I hate the green bags more than anything. This (cart alternative) sounds like the best idea to me … but that’s just me, my personal belief.”

Commissioner Mike Conley said his neighbors prefer the bags, due to the difficulty posed by carts in deep snow.

“I’m afraid if we go to an all-cart system, there’s (going to) be a party with a bucket of hot tar for all of us,” Conley said.

Superintendent of Public Works Scott Cambensy said since some residents may be resistant to change, another option would be to flexibly use carts or bags by combining Waste Management’s two low-bid alternatives.

Acknowledging the many considerations involved, Cambensy said, “It’s a big decision. I mean, this is probably the biggest potential change we’ve done in the program … in a long time.”

Another consideration is the effect on the county landfill if the city switches to Eagle Waste, which would process recycling at its own facility.

Chairman of the MCSWMA board Randall Yelle said MCSWMA’s landfill and recycling programs serve 22 municipalities in the county, and the city of Marquette constitutes 52 percent of its recycling.

“If you guys don’t participate in the program,” Yelle said, “that’s going to affect the program for recycling for the other 21 municipalities, and it has to support itself. Without you people coming in, it probably will not.”

He said the MCSWMA is currently looking to make the recycling program single stream instead of dual stream, so that all recycling would be picked up at the same time, instead of residents having to separate rigids from fibers.

Yelle said this will involve adding to their current structure, hiring two more employees and buying equipment.

“We’d like to go to that program, but without your 52 percent and your participation in the Marquette County solid waste program, that will not happen. But we’ll continue the dual stream whether we get you or not, to see how it works out and make sure it’s supporting itself,” Yelle said.

Commissioner Mike Conley said his chief priorities are local jobs, local taxes and regional cooperation. Saying Waste Management pays taxes on its commercial facility in the city, he argued that including that and the money the city gets back from the landfill for recycling, the bids could look different.

“I tend to think local. Mr. Yelle just said that if we kept our recycling local, they could have two more jobs,” Conley said. “It doesn’t sound like a lot — unless it’s your job.”

Conley said the city has benefited from an improved relationship with the MCSWMA, and the communities have worked together to build those services.

“I think we’ll deserve our reputation if we walk away from that,” Conley said.

Mayor Pro Tem Tom Baldini said he shares those concerns, but the Eagle Waste proposal clearly saves residents money.

“We have that responsibility to the voters of our community,” Baldini said. “We have one bid that would save substantial money. We would have to explain why we’re not going that way.”

Commissioners requested more specific information on the impact the change would have on the MCSWMA, along with other details, ahead of a final decision.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.