Despite decision, councilors say recycling issue will be back

Councilors predict solid waste changes will be topics in November vote and beyond

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Westminster city councilors might have done away with a controversial plan to manage trash collections last week, but both opponents and proponents say the issue is not going away.

Councilor Anita Seitz, a fan of hiring a single private firm to provide trash collections, said a majority of the city wants the kind of financial savings and efficiency that kind of arrangement can bring the city, according to city polls.

“I think we have a responsibility to keep looking at this issue, maybe not in the form that we currently have,” Seitz said. She cited community surveys of residents saying that they favored increased recycling.

“We had 80 percent of our residents, in two surveys, saying this is an important issue to them,” she said. “That’s been consistent for multiple surveys over multiple years.”

Seitz said she expects the issue will be back before the city council at some point in the future.

“I feel this is something our city consistently asked for, improved options,” she said. “I don’t know what the right way is, but I do know there is an expectation that we approach it.”

Councilor Bruce Baker, an opponent of the plan, said he expects the issue will make a return at the polls this November and could decide who gets elected.

“I think it will really be referred too — you bet,” Baker said. “I think a lot of people in Westminster almost felt betrayed.”

Three city council seats and Mayor Herb Atchison’s position are all up for election this fall. The council seats are those of Baker, Emma Pinter and Mayor Pro-Tem Alberto Garcia.

“For right now, it’s dead, “ Baker said. “It’s dead until after the November elections.”

Westminster currently licenses trash haulers but residents must find and hire a company to collect their trash on their own.

The city was considering contracting with one or more private trash haulers to serve the city, with the intent of improving recycling collections and reducing costs to residents.

The issue was the sole discussion item at the Feb. 13 council meeting, but councilors adjourned after taking more than three hours of testimony from residents— with most complaining the change would take away their right to choose.

Councilors postponed the rest of the discussion until Feb. 27. A public presentation of the plan details, originally scheduled for Feb. 13, was postponed to Feb. 27 as well.

The original plan called for all residents to participate, and that was the biggest complaint from residents at both meetings.

After the Feb. 27 meeting, councilors directed staff to continue negotiating with the trash haulers but removed the requirements that residents participate. Residents would be able to choose between the city’s hauler and private competitors.

Baker said that change canceled any savings the proposal had to begin with.

“Once people could opt out, the efficiency went away,” Baker said. “None of the participants that were left could guarantee a lower price. We couldn’t even get close to prices that (Westminster’s homeowners’ associations) pay.”

Councilors went behind closed doors May 8 to get an update on staff’s progress negotiating with haulers. The city announced councilors’ decisions to shelve the proposal on its website on May 9.

City Director of Public Works and Utilities Max Kirschbaum said city staff could not settle terms with potential trash haulers.

“We were trying to meet some pretty significant criteria, where councilors thought we should go,” Kirschbaum said.

Kirschbaum said councilors discussed the matter in an executive session May 8 before deciding not to pursue a contract with a single hauler.

“There is not a proposal now,” Kirschbaum said. “That aspect of the discussions is finished and councilors decided not to go forward after reviewing the information from two separate rounds of negotiations.”

But Seitz said residents still want the city to do something about trash hauling.

“I’m deeply disappointed that we didn’t serve our residents a little better,” she said. “I think we let opponents’ volume sway us, instead of reason.”

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