Flint, MI — After months of discussion, the Flint City Council voted down a $26 million trash contract with Priority Waste, LLC.
At its finance committee meeting on Oct. 18, 2023, council voted against sending the resolution to its special affairs committee meeting or its regular council meeting, resulting in the resolution being dropped for good.
“Since it failed to move from committees, it’s considered moot and a new resolution will have to be submitted,” City of Flint Clerk Davina Donahue wrote in an email. “Generally, there’s a 30-day wait to bring the same action item back before council — but the administration could bring it back sooner in a different format.”
Flint City Councilmembers Eric Mays, Jerri Winfrey-Carter and Dennis Pfeiffer voted against sending the contract forward, while Councilwomen Judy Priestley, Tonya Burns and Candice Mushatt voted in favor. Council Vice President Ladel Lewis and Councilwoman Eva Worthing were not present at the meeting, and Councilman Quincy Murphy left before the vote.
The waste contract was first introduced at a July 19 finance committee meeting. It was presented as a single resolution that included the distribution of grant-funded recycling and trash carts and a fixed rate contract extension with Priority Waste, LLC, with which the city had entered into a three-year contract with on Sept. 7, 2021.
At that July meeting, Murphy expressed that he wanted to accept the grants for the recycling carts but wasn’t ready to accept the contract. So, council sent the resolution to its next special affairs committee meeting on July 24.
At that meeting, the resolution appeared in three separate resolutions: one for a $1 million grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) for recycling carts, one for a $2,492,000 grant with The Recycling Partnership, Inc. for recycling and trash carts, and one for the $26,889,631.20 contract extension with Priority Waste.
The resolutions moved through to a July 31 special city council meeting, during which council voted to accept the two grants for recycling and trash carts, but sent the contract with Priority Waste back to its finance committee.
At the time, Heather Griffin, Flint’s waste services coordinator, informed council that the grants would not go into effect without the approval of the Priority Waste contract also.
The contract offers a set price for trash services through the city’s fiscal year (FY) 2028 budget, with an option to extend the contract for another five years with a 3% annual increase.
The set cost for the next five years, including FY 2024, is $6,722,407.80 per year. With the optional five-year extension through FY 2033, the total cost of the contract would be $46,616,378.40.
The dilemma: who’s going to pay for it?
At the July 31 special city council meeting, Pfeiffer said he would not support the contract until he knew how much funding is available in the rubbish fund, because he said from his calculations, it will be in the negative over the next few years with acceptance of the contract.
“Nobody can seem to answer that or provide the information on how we are going to pay for your services without raising taxes and the account is going negative,” he said.
Pfeiffer said he was concerned that the residents would have to pay more long-term for the contract to happen.
“If we have to raise it, I want to hear from residents whether or not they’re willing to pay an additional fee,” he said.
Griffin told council at that same meeting that the rates are going to go up no matter what because of the increased cost of waste service providers across the board. She said that the assessment fees are raised about every three years anyway.
“We can walk away from the program … we’re still going to bring a waste hauler in and those rates are still going to go up,” she said.
However, at the Oct. 18, 2023 council meeting, Flint Chief Financial Officer Phillip Moore explained in a presentation that upon acceptance of the contract, the city would use $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from the revenue replenishment fund to make up for the deficit in the city’s rubbish fund through FY 2025.
According to Moore’s presentation, the city would draw a $1.1 million deficit in the current fiscal year without the replenishment with ARPA funds. In FY 2025, the city would run a $1.28 million deficit.
Moore said that, with the ARPA fund replenishment, there would be no increase in residents’ assessment fees through the end of the FY 2025. At that point, they would have to establish another way to handle the deficit.
The forecasted revenue in the rubbish fund is $6,072,376, but the contract calls for $6,722,408 along with an additional projected $22,125 for wages in FY 2025 and an additional $356,818 for “other” costs, according to Moore’s presentation.
Mays suggested that they extend the contract for just two years instead of the full five, but Dan Venet, the Vice President of Municipal Sales with Priority Waste, said that they would not sign the contract if it were only for two years.
At a press conference on Oct. 10, 2023, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley voiced his support for the contract’s passage and displayed the recycling and trash carts that residents could receive for free.
In an Oct. 19 prepared a statement on the council’s vote to drop the waste contract, Neeley said:
“We need the partnership of the Flint City Council, and the administration intends to bring the Priority Waste contract before them again during Monday’s Special Affairs meeting. In the wake of Emergency Management, our community often finds itself under-resourced and behind-the-times. Flint has an opportunity right now to be at the forefront of sustainability practices and changes that will eventually overtake the waste management industry. The recycling cart program would allow us to plan for the future and stabilize waste collection services for Flint residents.Sheldon Neeley, Mayor of Flint