New town of Taos trash deal could raise rates
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.
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.