ACUA pulls out of Vineland waste collection as city still withholds payments | Local News

VINELAND — The Atlantic County Utilities Authority is prematurely ending its waste collection contract with Vineland, after service disruptions due to a labor shortage led the city to withhold payments.

Since September, the city has paid about half of the contract amount to the ACUA, and in February the authority notified the city that it was exercising a termination clause, ACUA President Rick Dovey said Thursday. .

“We decided in February that we had to stop this because we can’t guess how much money we’re going to get,” Dovey said. “We have to draw a line and end it.”

The ACUA will stop its garbage collection in Vineland starting July 21, Dovey said, adding that gives the city plenty of time to find a new garbage collection provider.

“We had warned them that they had broken the contract. You can’t breach and then rescind,” Vineland attorney Richard Tonetta said Friday. “It’s a problem for the court, but I hope it doesn’t go that far.”

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Tonetta said the city has continued to withhold part of the contract payment from the ACUA because service remains inconsistent.

The biggest problem has been a shortage of truck drivers with commercial driver’s licenses, Dovey said, a situation made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. ACUA has taken steps to help some of its workers qualify for CDLs, including providing free on-site training with ACUA trucks.

“Unfortunately, the ACUA blamed COVID,” Tonetta said. “That may have played a part, but until 2020 the service was perfect. It wasn’t until they outdid themselves and got contracts with Millville that they started to fail.

Dovey had hoped the city would allow the ACUA to switch to once-a-week garbage collection, he said, but officials wouldn’t agree.

But Tonetta said that was because the ACUA couldn’t guarantee consistent pickup, even once a week.

Vineland paid just under half of what it owed the ACUA from September to December, Dovey said. Of the $889,000 owed, the city paid $429,000, according to Dovey.

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Vineland paid the ACUA in full for January and February, said Amy Cook-Menzel, the authority’s communications manager.

Dovey said the authority hopes to avoid litigation to receive the money Vineland owes, and he’s optimistic the two parties can reach an agreement to avoid going to court.

“We’re not looking to hurt them, we just don’t want our taxpayers to pay for anything when there’s no service,” Tonetta said.

The $31.3 million contract, which was signed in the summer of 2018, began in January 2019. It included twice-weekly garbage pickup from all 17,000 homes in the city and recycling pickup once a week. times a week, and included the option of weekly trash. pickup truck,” Tonetta said.

“We’re looking at this month by month,” Tonetta said of the ACUA payments. “If we believe they are complying with the terms of the contract, we pay them. We don’t want to take their money, nor do we want them to take ours without providing service.

The authority also maintains collection contracts with Millville and Bridgeton, so its operations will not leave Cumberland County once the Vineland contract ends.

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In other towns, government departments didn’t stop paying or paid less, Dovey said, even though they sometimes didn’t collect all their trash or recyclables on time.

Throughout the pandemic, but especially in the summer of 2021, the authority has suffered what Dovey described as severe labor shortages. The authority has taken desperate measures to weather the crisis, including rehiring employees fired for petty crimes.

Staffing levels have improved, Dovey said Thursday, but problems remain. He said the authority will continue to solicit new hires through advertisements and salary increases.

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