Swartz Creek council considers switching to new trash collection provider

SWARTZ CREEK — With the trash collection contract set to expire June 30, the Swartz Creek City Council is considering whether to stick with Republic Services for another five years or switch to a new vendor.

Republic and GFL Environmental were the top two choices for a five-member ad hoc committee that discussed and debated the four bids submitted. GFL submitted the low bid, which could save the city $15,600 in the first year and $138,960 over the life of the contract.

The committee, by a vote of 4-1, recommended the council award the contract to Republic. They cited a seamless transition with the existing provider, and their ability to work on “known deficiencies,” as well as GFL’s uncertain track record. GFL currently has no clients in Genesee County.

Not everyone on the council is sold on the idea of sticking with Republic, however.

Councilman Nathan Henry, who served on the committee, cast the dissenting vote.

“Generally, I would go with a low-cost bidder unless there’s a reason not to, and I didn’t see a reason not to, myself,” Henry said.

There also is some concern about residents’ complaints about the quality of Republic’s service. The same complaints were under scrutiny in other communities, including Clayton and Mundy townships, and Davison.

The complaints began in mid-2019, before the pandemic, and centered primarily on missed collections. Republic officials initially chalked it up to difficulty in employing staff or residents placing their trash at the curb too late, and later said the pandemic contributed to their woes.

Mark Gonyea is one Swartz Creek resident who is not happy with Republic. A debate at the Monday, April 26, city council meeting “brought up some old wounds,” he said.

Gonyea said Republic employees have torn up his front lawn by scraping the bins across the yard, and broken his recycling bin by squeezing it too tightly. He said he still hasn’t received a new bin.

Councilman John Gilbert said he’s been generally happy with Republic.

“Only one time did my trash not get picked up,” he said. “I called and they came back and picked it up. Things happen.”

Gilbert said he hasn’t heard any complaints from residents.

City Manager Adam Zettel said Republic “has had some struggle” in recent years, but there are indications that the company is improving. He added that the cost difference is within 10 percent.

A motion to award the bid to Republic failed by a vote of 4-2. Henry, Dennis Pinkston, Samantha Fountain and Mayor Pro Tem Rae Lynn Hicks voted against the motion.

Pinkston said he would rather wait until a full council can vote on the issue. Currently, residents in District 4 are unrepresented following the sudden death of Councilman Jentery Farmer on April 24.

Mayor David Krueger said the council likely will not be ready to appoint a successor to Farmer at the next meeting, May 10.

Were the council to award the bid to GFL, the company would need about four weeks’ lead time to order and deliver bins.

“This is close and it’s important,” Pinkston said. “I’d like more time to think about it, and I’d like another council member to be involved. It (the contract) is a long time. I’m on the fence. I want time to talk to the committee and find out what they’re thinking and why.”

“I’m on the fence, too,” Hicks said. “This is not an easy decision.”

She asked why Republic was more expensive than GFL.

“The big difference is Republic is for-profit, it’s publicly traded,” said Gary Hicks, municipal services manager for Republic. “The difference is we actually do make money. We’re sustainable. If the city wants to roll the dice … the biggest difference boils down to sustainability.”

He said Republic “has been here through floods, massive windstorms and COVID.”

Emterra Environmental and Waste Management also bid on the contract, but Emterra did not offer automated collection, and Waste Management was determined to be too expensive.