WILKES-BARRE — In the midst of contract talks with the union representing Department of Public Works employees, the city Friday said it’s considering privatizing garbage pickup.
The deadline for proposals for curbside collection of municipal waste and recyclables is Dec. 18 with the opening of bids at 10:30 a.m. that day at City Hall.
City Administrator Ted Wampole backed off saying the notice was intended to draw concessions and a wage freeze from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 401 that represents DPW workers.
“I don’t say it’s a negotiation tactic. That would be up to them to make that determination. We just made it clear to them that we were doing it,” Wampole said.
Patrick Connors, principal officer of Teamsters Local 401 in Wilkes-Barre, was out of the office Friday and unavailable for comment.
The issue of using a private hauler was first raised months ago by PFM Consulting Group LLC, the Philadelphia-based firm hired by the city to develop a strategy to avoid bankruptcy and a distressed status designation that would result in tight financial controls by the state.
In its multi-year strategic plan presented in June, PFM identified the waste collection program as an area to review because expenses outpace revenues. For five of the six years from 2010 to 2015, the annual deficits exceeded $1 million, PFM pointed out. This year, the estimated loss is $2.1 million. But PFM noted it could be adjusted lower.
“Given the size of the apparent program deficit and the impending expiration of the collective bargaining agreement for the employees who perform this work, the city should undertake this review of waste collection finance and operations as soon as practical,” PFM said.
Wampole referenced the PFM report as among the reasons for the solicitation of proposals by the city.
“If we don’t look into it, we don’t know if there’s a less expensive option,” he said. “We owe to the residents to at least explore it per the suggestion, recommendation of PFM.”
There’s not one single determining factor that would lead the city to privatize, Wampole said.
“Obviously, cost is important, the type of service that would be offered, the convenience to the residents, all that does come into play,” he said.
Already the city is trying to cut into the waste collection program deficit with the higher price for garbage bags, Wampole said. Mayor Tony George’s proposed $49.4 million balanced budget for next year hikes the cost of the city-issued bags by 60 cents to $2.60 for a 30-gallon bag and $1.85 for a 15-gallon bag. The bag fees are budgeted to raise an additional $426,800 for overall revenues of $1.5 million.
City council approved the higher bag fees at its Nov. 21 public meeting.
The budget is up for approval Monday night when council holds a combined work session and meeting beginning at 6.