Holyrood council nervous about new waste contract
By Mark Squibb | August 6, 2020
The Town of Holyrood has agreed to enter into a 40-month joint waste collection initiative with the Eastern Regional Service Board (ERSB) which will lock the Town in a contract until March 31, 2024.
The ESRB had invited all the communities of Conception Bay Centre to participate.
Holyrood CAO Gary Corbett read from a letter the Town had received from ESRB, noting that the same letter had been sent to all communities in the area. The current charge per household to the town is $180 a year. The new rate will be set by a public tender that the service board intends to call for a new contract.
The current fee covers all waste management services, including weekly garbage collection, bi-weekly recyclable collection, and bi-annual bulk item collection. The ERSB advised the town it is in the process of developing communication materials and the schedule for 2021. Attached to the letter was a service agreement that would cover the 40-month time period of the contract.
In signing the agreement, the Town would be agreeing to accept the awarding of the public tender by ERSB without knowing what the new fixed rate per household will be.
“So, until they go out to tender, we really don’t know, as a municipality, what the cost is going to be,” Corbett pointed out. “We know the components of it, but we’re not sure of the costs.”
Corbett added the ERSB’s goal is to keep it between $180 and $200 annually.
This point caused some concern for councillors.
“So, the fees are set annually and are subject to change. Does that mean that they’re guaranteed to stay within that $180 to $200 range?” councillor Kevin Costello asked.
Corbett said based on the research done by the ESRB, that’s where they expect the fees to fall.
“That, to me, seems very open-ended and an opportunity for someone to increase prices quite significantly — and we’ve agreed to it,” said Costello.
“Well, I think the goal of the Eastern Regional Service Board, from my conversations, is that that’s the bottom and that’s the top that they’re looking for,” said Corbett. “If it comes in under $180, that would be great. But they’re not accepting anything over $200. They would have to go back and re-tender or try something else.”
Deputy Mayor Curtis Buckle suggested the more communities in on the tender, the cheaper it is likely to be.
Councillor Kimberly Ghaney asked for clarification on whether the Town would be bound, by contract, to ESRB for 40 months. “There have been a number of issues with their service, and I don’t think we’ve had a real good opportunity to discuss those issues,” she said.
Corbett acknowledged that while the Town has had collection troubles in the past, he felt that ERSB will be more vigilant in the future. “For example, when garbage wasn’t picked up a certain Wednesday back a while ago, it never got posted until after 3:30 p.m., and it was lost in a Tweet, so that unless you read the whole Tweet, you wouldn’t see Holyrood,” he said. But Corbett added that while there have been issues, such as missed garbage or mechanical issues, the “service, for the most part, has been very reliable.”
Ghaney replied that while she doesn’t expect anyone to be perfect, communications from the board are important.
“If they’re not communicating with us, we can’t communicate with the residents,” she said. “And they depend on us to do that. They depend on us to understand what issues might be there and why they’re there and how it’s going to be rectified. And that’s the biggest issue I’ve seen over the last number of months. So I hope that that has been rectified with the discussion’s you’ve had with them. And if not, and if service is subpar, are there options for us to get out of the contract?”
Corbett said Holyrood would likely face a higher cost to seek waste collection on its own. He said the Town has hired private contractors for waste collection in the past, and it proved more expensive than being in the contract.
“We’ve proved in the past with private contractors, the most recent one before we entered into the long-term contract, that it was a significantly higher cost,” said Corbett. “If this was to get railroaded, in terms of the service provided, I think then the Town would have to go through it’s legal options to see how to get out of the contract. And I don’t think any provider is going to set themselves up for that, councillor Ghaney, but who knows, right?”
In an interview later, Harold Mullowney of Bay Bulls, chairman of the ERSB, said the board’s mandate is to keep costs reasonable.
“We’re in a whole different world now, due to COVID-19, so there’s extra costs, so who knows what kind of bids are going to come in, but everyone on the board are elected municipal representatives, and our main mandate is to keep the costs as equitable and fair as possible across the board,” he said. “We’ve pretty committed, for this year, to keep that cost for the year.”
He noted that when transitioning to Eastern Waste Management from Southern Shore Waste Management, residents there were concerned about an increase of costs, but the $180 household fee held for roughly seven to eight years.
“They were able to be held there because we searched for every economy of scale we could find,” said Mullowney.
As for its communications, Mullowney said the board is in the process of rolling out a new website, which may help.
“We’re trying to communicate as effectively as possible, and when people need information they should go to our webpage first,” he said. “We’re trying to make it as responsive and user-friendly as possible for the communities and residents that we serve.”