By BRAD ROLLINS
Four years ago, downtown business leaders decided to look for ways to clear clusters of Dumpsters behind bars, stores and offices and cut down on the number of trash trucks barreling down narrow alleyways.
As many as six trash disposal companies provide pickup services to San Marcos businesses and institutions. Unlike residential customers who use the city’s chosen contractor — since 2003 it’s been Texas Disposal Systems — commercial customers in town are free to chose from any provider who agrees to give the city a cut of its haul here in the form of a street use fee.
Property owners like Lupe Carbajal thought it made sense to consider settling on a single provider and consolidating pickup spots for downtown merchants.
“What we got when we tried it was nothing but hell. No one wanted to change and it didn’t get very far,” Carbajal told the city council in December when they took up a proposal for a single commercial trash services provider for the entire town. “If you try it, you’re going to catch holy hell, too — citywide.”
For council members, the warning about came too late.
In July, the council gave the go ahead to city management to prepare for a five-year extension of TDS’ residential trash services contract as allowed in the original contract set to expire in June 2008. At the same time, the council authorized then-City Manager Dan O’Leary to negotiate an extension of TDS’ franchise to cover commercial trash customers as well as residential. If negotiated as part of the contract extension, the change could have been made without seeking bids from other providers. Rolling commercial accounts into the agreement would help offset expected increases in residential rates as well and allow expansion of recycling property to apartment complexes, O’Leary said.
“There are good reasons why we want to consider this. In most cases, commercial customers are going to be paying less now than they are currently are based on the numbers I’ve seen,” O’Leary told the council Dec. 4 during his last meeting before leaving for his new job in Flower Mound.
His presentation reiterated another of proponents’ arguments for switching to a single franchisee for commercial customers including lucrative haul-off jobs on construction sites. “We suspect there are trash companies doing business in San Marcos that we don’t know about and aren’t paying anything.”
In 2003, many business owners protested when the city briefly considered requiring them to use a single solid waste collection provider who bills through the city. An ordinance adopted then requires commercial hauler — there are currently five permitted to operate on city streets — to pay five percent of their gross revenue each quarter in the form of a “street use” fee.
But other companies like Allied Waste Services, which pays thousands each quarter in street use fees, urged council members to either leave the status quo alone or open the process up for bidding.
“Allied Waste Services has dutifully paid the required franchise fees to the city. …AWS is willing to administer whatever franchise fee the city feels is appropriate and our records are open for your inspection at any time to confirm our compliance with its terms,” Steven R. Shannon, the company’s municipal waste services manager wrote council members in a letter that also pointed out that Allied’s central and south Texas district office is located here.
Allied collected nearly 100 letters from its customers protesting the commercial provision of TDS’ contract. In the end, council members decided to forgo the commercial question for now.
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