Kent City Council approved a new recycling pickup contract with Republic Services on May 31. Image via the City of Kent
Kent City Council voted Wednesday to jettison its contract with the Portage County recycling center, choosing to start biweekly recycling pickup with Republic Services, which placed a cheaper bid and already handles the city’s weekly trash collection.
The vote was 6-2, with council members Robin Turner and Heidi Shaffer Bish objecting. Council Member Tracy Wallach, who had previously also opposed the deal, was not present.
Republic bid $3 per household per month for biweekly recycling services, compared with the Portage County Solid Waste Management District’s current price of $5.50. The county recycling center did not submit a bid.
Council attempted to fast-track the deal with Republic on May 17, but Turner, Shaffer Bish and Wallach objected, requiring the legislation to be heard in three separate readings.
On May 31, council members suspended the third reading and voted on the measure definitively. Only Turner objected to suspending the third reading. Shaffer Bish said that although she objected to the speed with which the deal was passed, she declined to drag out the process.
“We cannot continue this idiocy for another day,” she said.
She later said council should never have put the recycling contract out for bid and wished the county would have submitted a bid.
Kent’s administration had advertised for bids for the recycling contract and formally opened the bids on April 28. Portage County Solid Waste Management District Director Dawn Collins said she did not offer one both because the city had an ongoing contract for recycling services and because she understood Kent was looking for a single hauler to handle both trash and recycling removal.
Council Member Roger Sidoti said the disagreement surrounding the recycling issue stemmed from local newspapers’ lack of coverage and people just hearing what they want to hear. Anyone who compared the options understood Republic offered a better deal, he said.
“Delaying it isn’t going to change the legalities of it because we’ve already accepted a bid,” he said. “Delaying it isn’t going to change the numbers.”
Over the course of a five-year contract, Sidoti said those numbers are $1.452 million to keep the county recycling center versus $792,000 to switch to Republic Services.
“The difference is $660,000 over five years. It’s a regressive tax if you want to put it that way, right out of the pocketbooks of our citizens,” he said.
The city must hold Republic accountable during the course of the five-year contract, which takes effect July 1, he said.
In an odd twist, Shaffer Bish said some residents are already receiving recycling bills for July and August from Republic. She said city Service Director Melanie Baker has assured her the bills have been issued in error and should not pay them.
Now that council has approved the contract, Republic will send out new bills, and all residents will receive letters explaining that Republic is now the sole hauler for both trash and recycling, Shaffer Bish said.
“The good news is that people will see their bills decrease. It’s not a huge amount, but some people will appreciate it,” she said.
Turner said dragging the legislative process out another day amounted to “purely a political tactical move,” which he supported.
“It wasn’t about dollars and cents to me. It was about the historical linkage of [the county recycling center] to the community, what it meant,” he said. “That’s not pieces of gold. That’s what previous people have done, that made this city one of the leaders in the environmental cause movement in this state. People look at us.”
Noting that the city’s administration and service director did their job “to a T,” Turner said at least two council members voted on the basis of potential liability issues instead of according to their conscience. He did not name the council members and later declined to identify them.
Council is walking away from the values of the community and is not representing the people of Kent, who he said would be willing to absorb the extra cost of retaining the county’s services.
Now, Turner said, the county recycling center will be destabilized and council must rebuild its relationship with it. Council Member John Kuhar said he feels bad that the county is losing Kent, but said the only complaint he has heard is “why the city has to control everything,” forbidding people to choose their own trash collectors.
Collins has previously said that losing Kent — its largest customer — would be difficult but would not be a death blow.
Instead, she said, the recycling center could focus on adding other programs and offering curbside pickup service to communities that now only have central drop-off sites.
The county recycling center will remove residents’ blue 95-gallon carts with June’s final pickup, Collins said earlier this month. Republic should distribute its bins at about the same time, she said.