Franklin declined the county’s new recycling contract, but no one knows if the current one is still valid

Franklin Township trustees meet on Dec. 14, 2021. Owen MacMillan/The Portager

Franklin Township trustees voted Tuesday night to continue operating under their existing contract with the county recycling agency and said they expect the county to do the same.

As far as the township is concerned, the contract is still in force, despite the Portage County Solid Waste Management District’s request to switch Franklin Township to a standardized agreement that nine other municipalities have already accepted. 

Franklin Township has declined, saying the new deal would raise rates for residents and complicate their roundabout funding mechanism for leaf removal services. Under their current contract with the county, valid from 2019 to 2024, Solid Waste collects $87.96 from each homeowner every year, but only uses a portion of this money for recycling, rebating most of it to the township to offset the cost of a private landscaper that picks up leaves.

Franklin Township is considering suing Solid Waste if the agency violates the existing contract.

“It worked fine for two years, now all of a sudden [Solid Waste] is under new leadership and they want to break our contract and do something else,” said Trustee Keith Benjamin. (In fact, Solid Waste had been hemorrhaging money because of a variety of factors.)

The next curbside recycling pickup date for Franklin Township residents is Dec. 28. Theoretically, Solid Waste would like to end the current contract on Dec. 31.

Solid Waste still lists the township for twice-monthly recycling pickup on its website. But no one knows if residents should continue to put their recycling by the curb in January — not even Solid Waste itself.

“I honestly don’t have an answer to if we will or if we won’t. It’s up in the air,” said Dawn Collins, director of the county recycling center.

Collins said there has been back and forth between the parties, but the matter is now the subject of a legal dispute and the status of recycling collection in Franklin Township hinges on the outcome.

“I don’t know if Dec. 31 is where [pickup stops] or not,” she said. “And that is what I need to know, but that’s above me now.”

Solid Waste has asked many of its municipal clients to agree to a $5.50 per month fee per residential unit for curbside recycling pickup. Franklin Township trustees said they would agree to that change, but only if the county made a provision about the way the current contract handles leaf removal.

Franklin has been using Kent company ABC Landscaping for leaf removal since 2019, and has a contract with the company for leaf removal through 2026. The county is still expected to make a payment of $102,620.18 for 2020 to the township, which they will use to pay their leaf collection bills.

The new contract Solid Waste proposed makes no provision for such an arrangement, meaning the county would pick up recyclables while charging $5.50 a month, but would not pick up leaves and would provide no portion of that money to Franklin Township to do so.

Franklin Township’s legal counsel, Chad Murdock, an attorney in Ravenna, told trustees Tuesday night that the agreement between Franklin Township and Solid Waste does not contain a termination by convenience clause, meaning there is no way for either party to terminate the contract unless the other fails to follow it.

“You have a binding contract with the county [to provide a leaf rebate] through the end of [2024], and for reasons that aren’t clear to me they want out of that,” Murdock said. “They indicated initially to me that they thought they needed to get out because they weren’t sure they had the authority to provide that service, which is puzzling because they’ve done it for two years.”

The township can take no legal action until the county actually fails to meet its side of the contract, but Murdock said he would immediately begin negotiations with the assistant prosecutor’s office to try and reach an agreement.

Murdock told the trustees they had two options: either continue to operate under the current contract and expect the county to do the same, or accept the new contract and set up payment for leaf pickup themselves.

The trustees voted unanimously to operate under the existing contract.

“I don’t think it’s our responsibility to get into the business of collecting because we didn’t sign up for that,” Trustee Scott Swan said. “If we start or attempt to do that, we are going down a path that we aren’t prepared [for].”

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Owen MacMillan is a reporter with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University, producing local news coverage in partnership with The Portager.