Auburn, Waste Management close in on 10-year contract

If plan is approved Nov. 2, there will no longer be two waste haulers serving city.

Should all go according to plan, at its meeting Nov. 2, the Auburn City Council will give Mayor Nancy Backus the green light to negotiate an exclusive 10-year solid waste contract with Waste Management.

This means that when the contract is in play between October 2021 and September 2031, there will no longer be two waste haulers collecting solid waste in the city of Auburn (Republic and Waste Management).

“The most exciting thing is that we’re finally, after all this time since I have been with the city — over 12 years — going to have one service provider for solid waste collection,” said Joan Nelson, interim utility billing and customer service manager for the city of Auburn.

Last fall, the city sent out requests for waste haulers to submit proposals, and of those waste haulers that responded, Waste Management received the highest marks. In the last four months, the city and Waste Management have worked together to finalize the contract. Next, the hauler will present the city a detailed implementation plan that lists everything that is to happen in the coming nine to 10 months.

“We did go out for a competitive process to try to get those best rates, but we are making some major changes to our programs, and those are part of the increased costs …As a city, we have a lot of frozen positions and we are kind of understaffed as it is,” Nelson said.

Perhaps the greatest change will be with billing and customer service.

Whereas today, the city bills its residential and commercial customers for solid waste pickup and provides customer service, when the new contract goes into effect, Waste Management will assume these functions.

“It’s going to be a much more efficient process,” Nelson said. “So, when people see that truck driving down the road, picking up their container, that’s the same people they will call for service issues and the same people they’re going to get the bill from.”

As the city transitions from customer service and billing, Nelson continued, it will look at the group that has handled those responsibilities for so many years, and where cost savings can be found, the city will find different projects for group members to work on.

Residential and commercial customers should expect a rate increase at some point, Nelson said, as the present rates are no longer commensurate with the actual cost of service. Nelson said Waste Management’s proposal was $500,000 less per year than Republic Services.

The rates reflect the cost of service, Nelson said, so it’s important to bear in mind that each sector supports itself: residential customer rates support residential services, commercial rates supporting commercial services, and there are no cross subsidies.

The rates in the contract are the rates the city pays Waste Management, but because the city will keep its own solid waste fund, it can set its own retail rates.

The residential rate increase — of what the city will pay Waste Management — is 29 to 48 percent, and the 35-gallon garbage rate will increase by $7.45 per month. The new contract will also introduce a 45-gallon container, but that rate is still an unknown.

“Right now, the city has not raised its retail rates since 2014,” Nelson said. “We have had a pretty robust solid waste fund. Garbage follows the economy, and the economy was doing really well, and our solid waste fund was growing, so we haven’t had the need to increase rates. We will next year because we’ll have to set our new retail rates. Thankfully, we have a solid waste fund that we are going to try to feather out and kind of buffer some of this rate increase, we’re not dramatically increasing the residential and commercial rates, to the best of our abilities.”

Nelson described at length what customers will get for the added bucks. Here are some of the highlights.

■ New containers, green for recycling and gray for garbage, Nelson said, will be delivered one to two months before the contract starts on Oct. 1, 2021.

■ Litter crew services will be incorporated into the new solid waste contract, so WM staff will provide pickup of illegal dumping, regular litter pickup services, and help empty some of the containers. For 25 years the city contracted with Vadis for litter crew services, but it stopped providing that service in 2017. Between then and now, the city has used Recology Cleanscapes.

■ The bulky-item collection event that the city typically holds in April, when residents can put out large items like refrigerators and sofas for curbside collection at no charge, will change to more of an on-demand program. The upshot is that people will no longer have to wait to get the debris hauled away. All they need do is call and they can be removed right away.

■ All new collection vehicles will be tricked out with the latest technology available.

■ With the customer service change will come a dedicated phone number to a large call center in Phoenix, Ariz. Waste Management will also provide what they call a customer ambassador and a customer service champion, experts in all details of the contract with Auburn.

■ Unlimited, free carry-out service for disabled residents.

■ Two special recycling events per year for difficult-to-recycle items like electronics and tires.

■ Three free. storm-event yard waste collections per year, up to 96 gallons.