Council unconvinced on contract amendment

By David Hotle, The JOURNAL


With several members of the Washington City Council uneasy about altering a contract with WEMIGA Waste Inc. to operate the joint city/county recycling center, the issue was tabled during Tuesday?s meeting for more input.

For over a month the city and county have been negotiating to act on a request from Lynn Whaley of Wemiga for the city and county to reimburse the firm for money lost due to a downturn in recyclable prices. The request was made as earlier this year China stopped taking recyclable plastic and paper from the U.S., which had been part of the recycling center?s income. Whaley asked the city and county reimburse WEMIGA for the lost revenue. The cost, shared between the city and county, would be around $1,500 per month.

?He was the most expensive contractor who bid,? council member Steve Gault argued while reading the latest contract amendment from Washington County. ?If you bid on a job and if the price goes up you don?t get to come back and ask for more money. This guy signed a contract. We never had any problems. We never have had this before. No one else in this room can sign a contract and break it.?

Washington City Administrator Brent Hinson said the issue has been ongoing since May and the current proposed contract amendment will reimburse WEMIGA for losses retroactively from May.

Washington Mayor Jaron Rosien said the contract allows WEMIGA to leave the contract with 30 days notice and to have the contract re-examined. He also said the downturn in recyclable price is a national trend due to China no longer accepting paper and plastic recyclables. Since 1992 China had taken about 45 percent of recyclable plastic, about 106 million metric tons since the program began. In 2017 China passed the National Sword Policy to keep plastic from being imported beginning in January 2018.

One part of the contract the council discussed is the requirement for the city and county have a commissioner to hold WEMIGA accountable and ensure the fund losses reported. Both Hinson and Rosien indicated they did not want to be the commissioner.

Gault said the council members are responsible for city residents? money. Whaley had previously said it is cheaper to dump the paper and plastic recyclables into the landfill on a short-term basis.

Council member Danielle Pettit-Majewski, who had also attended discussion with the county Board of Supervisors, said another reason for the reimbursement is the county does not want people to get out of the habit of recycling. She also said there would be people unhappy with the city putting recyclables into the landfill. Gault commented there would also be taxpayers wondering why extra money was being spent when it could be done cheaper.

?I realize this is not something that just popped up and that it is a national crisis,? DeLong said. ?So are gas and fuel prices. As a contractor I don?t go back and get an adjustment. He was the most expensive and after having talked with the previous contractor a few times and some other people, I don?t think giving him extra money is justified.?

The city pays $42,000 per year for the recycling center contract. If the amendment is approved, it could add $10,000 per year. .

?If you approve this amendment, that costs us more money and we don?t like that,? Hinson said. ?If you don?t approve this amendment the risk we run is the contractor puts in notice to break the contract and we will be in the position to bid this when we are at the worst of the market.?

In June, Whaley told the council he couldn?t afford to pay to get rid of the city?s recyclables. He is looking for a temporary assistance in getting rid of the materials.

?We have never seen a change like this in the United States where the market has went below zero,? Whaley said. ?It is one thing for it be zero, then to turn around and have to pay to get rid of it.?

The contract with WEMIGA expires June 30, 2019. Hinson expects the council to have discussions about this in the fall.