City Council wants better trash cleanup, tables resolution supporting it


April 13th, 2016

Omaha City Seal in the Legislative Chambers

Omaha City Seal in the Legislative Chambers

Omaha’s Mayor and City Council agree the City’s trash collection system needs to be modernized, but at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Council members did not approve a resolution in support of just such a plan.

Tuesday’s Council meeting began with a proclamation read by Councilman Chris Jerram, declaring April 12th as Sebastian “Subby” Anzaldo Day, in recognition of the work and achievements of the entertainment booking agent turned public servant.

Later in the meeting, in a scene similar to one that played out a week before, lawyer Ted Boecker and his client N, L & L Concrete opposed a decision by the City to give an emergency concrete contract to Swain Construction. Boecker told the Council his client never got a clear answer as to why the bid was rejected, only vague implications that N, L & L Concrete didn’t use the E-Verify system properly.

E-verify is a federally mandated system for employers to ensure their employees are legally allowed to work in the U.S.

Boecker said the City over-stepped its bounds by asking contractors to verify their use of E-verify

“This Council has the independent right to assess this bid,” Boecker said. “We would urge rejection of this resolution, and either reward it to the next lowest bidder who is qualified; or alternatively, simply reject this and start over and do it right from the start to avoid any complications.”

The Council unanimously approved awarding the emergency concrete contract to Swain Construction.

From there, the Council began discussing the future of Omaha’s trash and yard waste collection.

Before the Council Tuesday was a resolution from Public Works and the Mayor’s office asking for the Council’s support in “the development and bidding of a new solid waste collection contract.”

City leaders have talked openly for some time about the need to upgrade the City’s waste pickup system. Under the current contract with Deffenbaugh/Waste Management, which doesn’t expire until 2020, trash and yard waste are supposed to be picked up separately. Trash goes to the dump, yard waste to the City’s composting facility. 120,000 residents rely on the city for trash pickup, and pay $19.5 million in taxes for that service.

Last year, during yard waste collection season, the system was vastly over-loaded and under-manned—forcing many people around the city to wait days for their trash to get picked up.

Bob Stubbe with Public Works told Council members Omaha’s antiquated trash collection system will only be a hindrance in future contracts, because collection companies prefer a modern system—with covered bins and trucks that can be operated by just one person and run on compressed natural gas.

Stubbe said if the City wants to be ready to implement a more environmentally friendly and cost efficient system by 2020, the process needs to start now. Stubbe said he wasn’t asking for permission from the Council to conduct the necessary research, just a good faith showing of support.

“Because if we go through this effort, it’s a lot of time and resources, not only to use inside staff, but also to potentially look at consultants from the outside to help us develop that,” Stubbe said, “We’ve already received some input from Omaha by Design saying they would be receptive to providing us information; we’ve received information from the Council relative to the same thing, so we’re requesting your support.”

Every Council member said the City needs a more modern method to pick up garbage and yard waste. And even though resolutions–by nature–are not legally binding, some on the Council still did not feel comfortable approving what was called a “non-cogent plan” to proceed.

Councilmen Pete Festersen said he didn’t want to start writing new collection contracts and put out a request for proposals (RFP) until after the results of an environmental impact study can be evaluated in 6-9 months.

Councilman Chris Jerram said a “yes” vote on the resolution would essentially be approving the co-mingling of trash and yard waste again this summer, which would be in violation of the City’s current contract with Deffenbaugh/Waste Management.

“Let’s look at the timing, folks. All of the complaints that came into the City, last year during yard waste delays, and the lack of performance of this contractor are about to hit again,” Jerram said. “Somehow, we’re being asked, at this convenient time of year, to go along with a process that’s going to continue to excuse [comingling yard waste and trash]. You cannot overlook the timing of this, and to me the red flags were apparent [Tuesday] morning when there just wasn’t this plan, well thought out and prepared, as to what was going to happen if this resolution were to pass. The fact it was detoured past the Public Works Committee, in my mind, lays credence to what actually is going on here.”

 Bob Stubbe and Mayor Jean Stothert both said the resolution was put on the agenda by the Mayor’s office in the interest of transparency, and to get everyone on the same page of a contentious issue. After the Council meeting, Mayor Stothert said Councilman Jerram’s concerns over the timing of the resolution were unfounded.

“I disagree with his implications. Read the resolution,” Stothert said, “It had nothing to do with whether we were going to co-mingle or collect yard waste separately at all, and it has nothing to do with what we can hold our current collector—which is Deffenbaugh– to, because they are currently under contract, and they are still under contract, and they will be under contract with the City of Omaha until we get a new RFP, and put it out to bid and the City Council approves it. This has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with co-collecting yard waste this summer. Absolutely nothing. So his implications were inaccurate.”

 Council members voted 5-2 to table the resolution for 8 weeks, and allow Public Works more time to put together a more definitive resolution; which, like the one on Tuesday’s agenda, will also not be legally binding.

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