New town of Taos trash deal could raise rates

The Taos News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Jesse Moya jmoya@taos­ The Taos News

Town of Taos res­i­dents could be see­ing a dif­fer­ent solid waste bill in the fu­ture as the town coun­cil ap­proved a change in the way Taos talks trash.

This change could also mean cus­tomers who don’t pay their garbage bills will have their wa­ter shut off.

Dur­ing a Tues­day (Sept. 25) reg­u­lar meet­ing, the coun­cil passed a new or­di­nance chang­ing the con­tract with the town’s solid waste col­lec­tor, Waste Man­age­ment, to more of a fran­chise agree­ment be­tween the two.

Cur­rently, the town is re­spon­si­ble for billing res­i­dents for solid waste ser­vices and of­ten acts as the “mid­dle man” be­tween cus­tomers and Waste Man­age­ment. To stream­line com­mu­ni­ca­tion and to al­low town em­ploy­ees to deal less with Waste Man­age­ment cus­tomers, the town de­cided to en­ter a fran­chise agree­ment.

“We thought it was sim­pler to just get out of the waste busi­ness al­to­gether,” said town man­ager Rick Bel­lis dur­ing the meet­ing.

Bel­lis es­ti­mates that nearly half the time re­cep­tion­ists at the town spend with the pub­lic is spent deal­ing with solid waste ques­tions and is­sues. To max­i­mize the ef­fi­ciency of the town’s cus­tomer ser­vice front desk per­son­nel, Bel­lis said they were mov­ing to­ward fran­chis­ing.

The garbage com­pany is the town’s only solid waste provider, as per their con­tract with the town, and also pro­vides col­lec­tion ser­vices to county res­i­dents. Ac­cord­ing to util­ity of­fi­cials, the cur­rent bill for solid waste col­lec­tion within the town is around $15 per month for a 90-gal­lon street cart to be col­lected once a week. Res­i­dents could see that fee raised to a bit more than $20 with the new Waste Man­age­ment agree­ment, ac­cord­ing to town of­fi­cials.

The new or­di­nance calls for a manda­tory sub­scrip­tion for all town res­i­dents own­ing prop­erty and man­dates they have an ac­count with the com­pany. Waste Man­age­ment, a na­tional solid waste col­lec­tion com­pany out of Hous­ton, Texas, will be more re­spon­si­ble for the col­lec­tions and cus­tomer ser­vice in the fu­ture. The agree­ment did not go out for an of­fi­cial re­quest for pro­posal, ac­cord­ing to Bel­lis and Coun­cilor Darien Fer­nan­dez.

“We’re (cur­rently) essen­tially act­ing as their col­lec­tion agent,” Fer­nan­dez said.

Fer­nan­dez cast the only “no” vote against the or­di­nance, say­ing his rea­sons came from con­stituent con­cerns and also said he dis­agrees with where Waste Man­age­ment spends cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, claim­ing they do­nate to a largely Re­pub­li­can base.

One is­sue Fer­nan­dez said some con­stituents have had is with the fee in­crease and that no price break is pro­vided if a cus­tomer pro­duces less waste. Whether the can is full to the brim or only has a piece of waste in the bot­tom, Waste Man­age­ment will still as­sess the same fee. Dur­ing the meet­ing, Coun­cilor Ge­orge “Fritz” Hahn rec­om­mended that re­search be done at to the op­tions for peo­ple who pro­duce less waste.

The or­di­nance also adds a line to the town codes al­low­ing the town to cut off wa­ter ser­vices to cus­tomers who don’t pay their trash bill. The change is al­lowed un­der state statutes that say the town may “dis­con­tinue wa­ter ser­vices to a cus­tomer who has failed to pay the fee es­tab­lished for refuse col­lec­tion.”

Town of­fi­cials say it is al­ready pro­to­col to shut down ser­vices if a bill is not paid; for ex­am­ple, the town turns off wa­ter if the wa­ter bill isn’t paid. “Any ac­count that is past due, we dis­con­nect the ser­vice if the ac­count is 60 days past due,” said Deb­bie Vigil in the town’s util­ity depart­ment.

The change to the or­di­nance though would al­low the town to shut off wa­ter ser­vice, along with solid waste col­lec­tion, if the trash bill wasn’t paid. The change will still in­volve the town and Waste Man­age­ment work­ing in con­junc­tion to col­lect fees.

Ac­cord­ing to Vigil, the town pre­vi­ously hasn’t had any is­sues with col­lec­tion of solid waste pay­ments.

Taos County has a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion with solid waste but deals with it in a dif­fer­ent man­ner. County res­i­dents are re­quired to have proof as to how they will deal with waste. Taos County of­fers punch cards for their res­i­dents to take their waste to one of eight county trans­fer sta­tions. No curb­side col­lec­tions are of­fered by the county di­rectly. Ac­cord­ing to solid waste di­rec­tor Ed­ward Mar­tinez, county res­i­dents can still sign up with Waste Man­age­ment but are not re­quired to have an ac­count with the com­pany.

Bel­lis said the fran­chise agree­ment was not yet signed but that Waste Man­age­ment was go­ing to be the com­pany do­ing busi­ness with the town.

Waste Man­age­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Di­rec­tor Jen­nifer Rivera said that sev­eral New Mex­ico cities and towns have cho­sen sim­i­lar fran­chis­ing agree­ments with solid waste com­pa­nies and that it was not un­usual for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to re­quire trash ser­vices.

Jesse Moya

Waste Man­age­ment could pos­si­bly be­come the ex­clu­sive fran­chisee for the town of Taos’ solid waste col­lec­tion. The com­pany cur­rently holds an ex­clu­sive con­tract with the town for col­lec­tion ser­vices.

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