PAWTUCKET — The debate rages on over efforts by the Grebien Administration to privatize the city-run trash and recycling program while the City Council demands more information and the union readies a last-ditch plea to keep the services in-house.
On Monday, the City Council held a special session to vote on a resolution authorizing an inquiry into the proposed transfer of trash collection services and requesting that no action be taken on any contract until the completion of this inquiry. At last week's City Council meeting, the council voted 6 to 2 in favor of the resolution, proposed by Councilor Thomas Hodge, yet the City Solicitor had reportedly questioned the legality of that vote since the resolution had not been on the agenda.
With the full council present and in front of a room packed with sanitation workers and other members of Local 1012, the council reaffirmed its support of the resolution by a unanimous vote. The vote elicited applause from many in the audience.
Following the brief meeting, the City Council Finance Committee met, and the discussion on the trash proposal resumed. Because of so many parties wishing to speak on both sides, FinCom Chairman John Barry requested that city officials make their presentation on the proposal that night, with Local 1012 President Augie Venice and other union members wishing to speak being given the chance to do so at a subsequent Finance Committee meeting scheduled for next Monday, Oct. 22.
During the public comment period of the council meeting, Venice read a statement saying that the union had tried to work with the mayor and his administration to develop a fair and affordable in-house trash proposal but that all of the cost-saving measures had been rejected. He criticized the private vendor's proposal as being “rushed through with no input from the City Council or the public.”
Venice also told the council that the privatization plan appeared to violate several sections of the Pawtucket City Charter. He also presented the council with a petition containing 560 signatures of city residents who do not want to see their trash services privatized.
Addressing the Finance Committee during its public comment period, Matthew Cordeiro, a Tolman High School student whose father is a city recycling coordinator, also spoke against the privatization plan. Cordeiro noted that if his father loses his job, it will create a financial hardship for the family and impact his dream of attending college. His heartfelt speech also drew applause.
Pawtucket Public Works Director Lance Hill gave the committee a timeline showing that the process behind a request for proposals (RFPs) from private waste haulers began last January. He also outlined several back and forth meetings that had occurred between the union and the administration as well as a copy of the bidders' costs and other information that had been given the the City Council in July.
Hill also told the Finance Committee that the city's fleet of trash trucks are all over 20 years old and contain over 389,000 miles, and said the liability they represent to public safety is a major factor in the decision to privatize services. Coupled with the vendor's offer to supply all city residents with new 96-gallon recycling totes, Hill said the vendor's costs represented “pretty good numbers” when evaluated against the city-run trash and recycling services.