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Cortez considers idea of outsourcing trash service

The city of Cortez is looking at ideas to save on trash service, including outsourcing to a private company. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Department loses money, city manager says; all options are on the table

To save costs, the city of Cortez is considering outsourcing its trash service to a private company.

City Manager Drew Sanders reported to City Council Feb. 8 that the collection service loses money.

“This is about looking for solutions to a problem. It is our fiduciary responsibility to the community. We owe it to the taxpayer to manage their money,” he said.

Sanders said a budget analysis showed the trash service has high maintenance costs.

In 2021, refuse department costs exceeded revenues by $169,361, Sanders said.

A lot of the increased costs are from truck maintenance, and two of the trucks need to be replaced at a cost of more than $500,000.

Further, a series of injuries in the department has increased insurance premiums.

“Refuse is a dangerous and physical job, and injuries do occur,” Sanders said.

No decision has been made yet, and proposals would face a review.

“I’m open to all options and ideas,” Sanders said.

Whether outsourcing would be more economical won’t be known until private costs are determined, he said.

Considerable changes would be necessary to make the program more cost-effective, city officials said.

The trash department has seven full-time employees and a fleet of trash trucks. Another city staff member is budgeted for maintenance.

The recycling program will remain with the city.

If the council privatized the trash service, billing would stay with the city. The city would pay a private company for the scope of work, and the city would bill customers.

Controlling city costs and customer rates is a priority, city officials said.

“If this goes out to bid, I don’t want a company to come in and instantly raise prices by double or triple. That is a concern for a lot of citizens,” said council member Matt Keefauver.

Sanders said the contract would ensure that did not occur.

“The only thing customers would notice is a different-colored truck,” he said in an interview with The Journal. “No decisions have been made. I believe it is important to look for solutions to a problem when it is identified and not ignore it.”

It is not clear whether there would be layoffs, Sanders said, or whether employees would be hired by the new company.

“Or they could be absorbed into a different department with us if they meet standards. There is no guarantee there,” he said.

During public comment, trash service supervisor Manny Neves said he and his fellow workers “did not appreciate” hearing about the plan to outsource the service. When contacted by The Journal, he did not want to comment further.

Cortez Mayor Mike Lavey said it is a “tough issue” anytime city jobs are impacted, and he encouraged efforts to retain the staff.

The city will continue to examine the problem and present ideas to City Council.

“This is a difficult circumstance wherein we as a city government have a duty to address problems when we find them, and balance the needs of both employees and taxpayers, a balance that is often very difficult to strike,” Sanders said.