Public hearing attendance shows strong interest in Lincoln trash and recycling
Part three: Terminology becomes a stumbling block

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[August 15, 2017]  LINCOLN - As the evening progressed at the special meeting of the Lincoln City Council, most of the comments coming from the audience were against the city entering into a waste hauler agreement that would offer exclusivity to the hauler and establish curbside recycling, versus the program currently offered through the Logan County Join Solid Waste Agency.

When it was realized that in the Area Disposal bid at least, the words “exclusive” and “mandate” were one in the same, aldermen expressed that this was a concern and something they needed to think about.

Alderman Tracy Welch

Alderman Tracy Welch commented on the entire situation from his perspective.

He noted that this whole scenario began out of a concern for renewing a 20-year, virtually unbreakable contract with the LCJSWA. He said that making a new 20-year agreement with the LCJSWA would mean the city was committing to whatever happens in the next 20 years.

Welch noted that recycling in the beginning had some financial benefit, but now it has very little. He noted, “Now, instead of getting a check for a load of plastics, they are giving a check.” He said in all likelihood that was going to be the trend and costs would go up for the LCJSWA and the fees to the city would have to go up as well. With the 20-year agreement, the city would be locked in.

He said it was a challenge for aldermen to always look at how to save money for the city. He added, “In my opinion, we are not trying to find ways to tax you. This impacts all of us too.”

Welch went on to say that he felt the aldermen were looking for a better way to serve the citizens and help save the city some money at the same time. However, he said he was hearing the voice of the people, and the people are not in favor of a contract with an exclusive waste hauler. He said as a result, if he were called on to vote at this moment, he would vote the voice of his constituents and say “no” to a waste hauler contract.

Alderman Steve Parrott

Alderman Steve Parrott also commented on the mandate. “From our last meeting when it was conveyed to us that this was not a mandate, then tonight coming to find out that it is a mandate, has soured a lot of people in here, including myself. For that reason right now, I would currently have a ‘no’ vote.”

Kevin Bateman – Logan County Board

Kevin Bateman, a member of the Logan County Board came to the microphone. He delivered the following comment: “You should commend your city council for taking this on. Long before it came to them it came to the county. And where that discussion had the biggest hiccup for myself and a few other people was for you that sit here tonight and say that you want a choice.

“When Joint Solid Waste came to us, the choice was a 20-year contract and there’s no way out. That is not a choice, especially when you’re talking about turnover of elected officials. I was one of those that started the argument that I want to shorten the length of the contract, even though, just as Michelle (Bauer) said, these guys do a wonderful job. I don’t want to lock-in myself, the people who will hold office after me, and the people that will hold office after them to a 20-year contract, and they didn’t want to budge on that.

“Joint Solid Waste even came to a county board meeting and we asked why the contract was written that way and Mr. Struebing said it was written that way for 20 years so that you could not get out. How is that American? Someone yelled communism (an earlier heckling from the audience during the meeting). There is no choice here (with LCJSWA), so whether they go with the status quo or go with the options they are talking, I have to commend them because they are giving you a choice as a taxpayer.”

Mitzi Rohlfs – Logan County Joint Solid Waste Agency

Mitzi Rohlfs of LCJSWA said that while the agency has maintained that it needs a 20-year agreement, it would also revisit that portion of their contract.

Lincoln resident John Eckley

John Eckley said that he had heard very little comments in favor of the curbside collection program. He said he felt like that curbside collection of recycling, and the collection of large items monthly would have to improve the overall situation. He speculated that if Area Disposal were going to pick up the big things routinely, the county would see fewer people “dumping their old mattresses” on rural roadsides. Eckley’s comment garnered a hearty round of applause, indicating that not everyone in the room was opposed to the proposed plan.

Eckley went on to say that mandated was a hard word, but to remember that the proposed contract is only three years, and if the people don’t like the program, the city can change it. His comment led to a few sidebar comments from members of the audience who said in essence that if the city isn’t listening now, why would they listen in three years?

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Alderman Michelle Bauer

Alderman Michelle Bauer commented that the city is listening, and that the city is trying to do something in the best interest of the citizens. She said that the city would listen in three years if the program isn’t working for citizens. She also commented in answer to a complaint about the two-point-five percent increase in fee annually from Area Disposal. She said that with this proposal, the citizens of Lincoln will know what to expect, whereas price increases from LCJSWA are unpredictable.

Bauer also commented that the “mandate” was a concern for her now. She said, “I don’t like to be told who we have to use. I absolutely get that.” However, she added that there are people in the city who are not using any trash service, they are “sharing” trash or dumping illegally out in the county. A mandated trash service could improve those conditions.

Other comments and questions

Richard Sinks said he felt that in attempting to solve a problem, the city had created a bigger one, and that creating a mandated program for the citizens of Lincoln was not right.

As the night wore on, some of the audience members began discussing and sharing their differences of opinion with each other. Mayor Seth Goodman asked that all comments and questions be addressed to the city and that personal debates be held outside of the meeting.

Eric Shangraw of Area Disposal also drew attention to the fact that Area employs locally. Many of the employees of the company were in the audience and he asked them to stand.

This led to comments from the audience that those employees would suffer if the city chooses to go with Advanced Disposal over Area Disposal. In answer to that, Welch commented that the city is aware that Area Disposal has done a lot for the community, and employs local people.

It was also mentioned that the city does not have to go with the lowest bid, it has the option to go with the bid they feel is in the best interest of the community.

Wanda Lee Rohlfs wanted to know what the city would do if it entered into a contract with a hauler and down the road, the constituents were not happy. The answer was that the city can always revisit its decision. It can drop the contract, rebid the contract, or go back to LCJSWA if it feels that is the best answer.

The question came twice from audience members, once from Wanda Lee Rohlfs addressing Johnson directly, if the bids were based on 4,400 customers and the mandate moved that customer based to approximately 5,000; what impact would that have on the price to the consumer. City Administrator Clay Johnson said that was not a question he could answer at the moment, primarily because it was a conversation to be had with the bidders.

At the two-hour-10-minute mark it was Lincoln resident Bill Gossett who stood and proposed that it was time to call it a night. The city would go on to field three more questions before closing.

Johnson was asked about the escape clause written into the bid agreement with the waste haulers. He had earlier indicated that the contract could be broken with only seven days notice. He was asked if it would really be that easy. If constituents continued to be dissatisfied with the decision made to mandate a waste hauler, could the council honestly just simply say, “we’re done.” Johnson said indeed, it would be just that easy, and could occur at any time during the contract period. He added there were some legal requirements involved such as written notice, but the city can get out of the agreement at any time.

Jim Struebing offers a rebuttal to Bateman

Mayor Goodman asked Jim Struebing to report on how many other municipalities have already agreed to the 20-year contract.

When Struebing came to the microphone he began by offering a rebuttal to Kevin Batemen saying that apparently Bateman’s opinions didn’t carry much weight because the county board had voted 11 to 1 in favor of the new 20-year agreement.

He said that New Holland, Middletown, Emden, Atlanta, Broadwell, and the county had already approved the 20-year agreement. Like Lincoln, the towns of Mount Pulaski and Elkhart are still looking at other options.

At the end of the July 30th meeting, aldermen tabled the issue for further discussion on August 15th at the Tuesday night Committee of the Whole.

[Nila Smith]

Post Script: On Monday, August 7th, Jim Struebing of the LCJSWA came to the city council meeting and said the agency was willing to offer a five-year agreement and a six-month notice escape clause. He did not go into great detail, but said he would explain further when he returns on August 15th for the Committee of the Whole.

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