VINELAND — The Atlantic County Utilities Authority will cease garbage collection here beginning July 21, an early end to a five-year, $31.31 million contract that was originally seen locally as an opportunity for a affordable service upgrade.
The untimely demise of the deal, which went into effect in January 2019, follows months of failed efforts to resolve garbage collection issues. Authority and city officials say the problems stem from labor availability issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, ACUA President Richard Dovey said the authority notified the city two months ago that it was exercising an option to rescind the contract. “We are fully committed to the terms of our contract with the city,” he said.
“When we created the contract, we weren’t sure of the capabilities of the ACUA,” city attorney Richard Tonetta said Tuesday. “So we built into the contract the ability to terminate with or without cause. … We told them, ‘You violated the agreement.’ They said, “We want to end it.”
Tonetta said the city in March issued a request for bids from solid waste collection companies interested in a contract with the city. These offers must be delivered to the city’s purchasing office no later than May 11th.
Service disruptions reportedly began around June 2019, with the city revealing in January that it had halted regular monthly payments for a period in late 2021. The city resumed regular payments in January.
Dovey confirmed that payments resumed at the full rate in January, although the February payment was missing from Wednesday. “It’s not in the red zone for us yet,” he said.
However, Dovey said, the authority is not happy with what the city paid her from September 2020 to December 2020. She will be asking the city for more money with the possibility of litigation, he said. he declares.
The city had cut monthly payments late last year, for a cumulative underpayment to the authority of $205,020 for 2021. The city cut payments on the grounds that it was not getting service that she had contracted.
“In our minds, this was all arbitrary and had no connection to the real impact,” Dovey said. “But anyway, that’s the dispute.
“We gave him four months to come to some sort of agreement on how they would be credited for what we could agree on for missed saves,” Dovey said. “That never happened.”
Dovey said the authority still has labor availability products in several areas due to COVID, but believes it is again about “on track” with the collection service. .
“I’m not promising it won’t happen again,” Dovery said. “It’s a pandemic. Because if another variant comes along, we’ll be in the same boat.”
Authority officials spoke directly to the city council at a public meeting in January about the issues, asking for time.
ACUA officials apologized at the meeting and said all efforts to circumvent their labor shortages had been in vain. City officials acknowledged that the authority was doing its best, but they also said that was the authority’s problem to be solved.
ACUA officials said the collection issues were not limited to Vineland, but affected its entire operations in several counties.
Other waste management companies have the same labor hurdles of obtaining and retaining commercial driver licenses at a time when drivers can easily change jobs for higher pay, said the authority.
In Vineland, the collection problem is worse due to the unusual twice-weekly garbage collection policy. The authority’s statement was that it could not promise reliable collection even if the schedule was revised to once a week, the lawyer said.
“They (residents) need to know that if they take out their trash on Monday night, it will be emptied Tuesday morning,” Tonetta said.
The ACUA maintains, at its expense, a fleet of trucks purchased for exclusive use at Vineland.
“The deal was that whatever the truck financing was, that would be our payment,” Tonetta said. “I don’t know where they will find the money. We are $240,000 a month. That’s a lot of money.”
Tonetta said the city regrets the result. “They (ACUA) have really taken a hit from COVID,” he said.
Joe Smith is a NE Philly native transplanted to South Jersey over 30 years ago, now keeping tabs on the South Jersey government. He is a former and current senior editor of the Daily Journal in Vineland, the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times.
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