City Residents Will Vote on Waste Company, APOC Disclosures

August 14, 2012 4:40 pmComments OffViews: 35

Heidi Zemach for SCN

Alaska Waste's Jesse Wilson, district manager and Matt O' Connell, division manager

City of Seward voters will be asked to approve or reject a ballot measure during regular city elections October 2 establishing a seven-year contract with Waste Connections of Alaska, Ind, otherwise known as Alaska Waste/Kenai Peninsula Inc, for the collection and disposal of their garbage and refuse. Last night (August 13) at a Special City Council meeting, the council agreed to put the measure on the ballot. 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, having bought out the former contractor. It also received the highest point rating in they city’s RFP process. The other companies bidding were Alaska Pacific Environmental Services I, LLC, and Mid State Truck and Trailer LLC, of Juneau.

The choice will be a difficult, but important one for residents. When the city asked all companies bidding to detail up front what cost increases their customers could expect over the length of the contract, Alaska Waste responded that it would increase its rates by 25 % in the first year. It would link automatic rate increases to 140% of the CPI or Consumer Price Index in each of the following years, not subject to council approval. The contract also could be extended by the council.

In the past decade, the CPI has generally increased in Alaska, as elsewhere, but it can increase or decrease depending upon the basic cost of living items (excluding fuel prices), and whether there is inflation or deflation, said City Finance Director Kris Erchinger. In 2009, the CPI was as high as 4.8%, but it was considerably lower in 2010, he said. Erchinger did not want to try to guess what the CPI increases would do to city garbage rates, but did not dispute Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson’s rough estimates that their bill could go up to $31.9 in seven years if the CPI was at 2.5 % each year, including the 25% increase.
“If I ran my business based on the CPI, I’d be out of business,” said Council member Ristine Casagranda.

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But before you scream or vote “no,” at the ballot box consider this. If the voters reject this particular item, the city will still be mandated to provide waste collection service. So they will either have to extend the existing contract, or put out another request for proposals, hoping for a lower bid, which also must go before the voters, Erchinger said. And if that did not work, they would have to look into the cost of the city public works department running the service. The trend these days has been to cut city government and privatize public services, however, not grow them.

Erchinger says she believes that the company’s bid, and rate increases it proposes are reasonable, especially when compared to rates in other cities, such as Anchorage. Also, while not revealing the contents of the other companies bids, she did say that one of the company had rates almost double those of Alaska Waste, and the other companies’, while lower, came close behind.

Other points in the RFP rating system were awarded for things like weight structure, mechanical structure, the firm’s experience, and even bear awareness, which is a new consideration reflecting bear problems in the community, and the recommendations of local wildlife groups and agencies. As an incentive for residents to handle their garbage properly, the 25 % increase would only apply to people without bear resistant garbage cans or dumpsters. Alaska Waste agreed to rent out bear proof garbage when needed for an additional $2 per month. The company also is offering another new service, bulky materials curbside pickup for things like old refrigerators, etc, for $42.18.

Also on the city election ballot will be a ballot proposition asking voters whether city officials and planning and zoning commission members should be allowed to “opt out” of current APOC financial reporting requirements. If approved, they still would have to report details of their finances to the public, so the term opt out is not quite accurate, but the requirements would not be as detailed, and as some representatives feel, intrusive, as the current APOC requirements which mandate that they report all forms of income of $1,000 or more coming from all employees, customers or family members. The old requirement set the bar at earnings of $5,000 or more. The financial disclosure requirement currently is viewed by council members as a deterrence to people in business from running for public office, because they do not want to reveal the names and addresses of their customers, renters, business partners, etc. Some 162 Alaska communities have chosen to opt out of the latest requirements, and either go back to the earlier APOC requirements, or formulate their own. The council voted Monday to spend up to $1,500 to explain the proposition to the public. The last time it was proposed, voters rejected it.

Wednesday, Aug 15, at 5:00 p.m is the deadline for candidates for City Council to turn their completed packets in to the City Clerk for three available seats. They are held currently by Jean Bardarson, Marianna Keil, and Ristine Casagranda.

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