Two East Bay towns are talking trash
Peter DeAngelis has some simple advice for Tony Teixeira.
The Barrington town manager knows firsthand how difficult, how delicate, the privatization of refuse and recycling collection can be for a community, and recommends that as Mr. Teixeira, the Bristol town administrator, begins that discussion emotions are checked at the door.
“They need to stay focused and they need to keep emotions out of it,” Mr. DeAngelis said. “This was one of the most difficult decisions for me. It was very difficult — I had to be prepared to put my professional reputation, my career on the line.
“If I was wrong I probably wouldn’t be sitting in this seat today.”
Twenty six months ago Barrington dropped its in-house refuse and recycling collection services at the DPW, eliminating eight full-time DPW positions at the same time, and signed a contract with Mega Disposal, a private company based in Seekonk, Mass. that services a number of communities.
The move, said Mr. DeAngelis, was done to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Similarly, RI Public Expenditure Council officials have told Bristol’s leaders that their town stands to save $2.3 million over a five-year period if it eliminates its refuse and recycling collection at the DPW and instead inks a deal with a private contractor.
“It’s an option he cannot afford not to look into,” said Mr. DeAngelis of Mr. Teixeira’s situation. “It did everything I said it would.”
In 2010, Mr. DeAngelis worked hard to convince the Barrington Town Council and members of the public of the potential savings that he said could be realized through privatization.
He said the move had nothing to do with the product provided by the local public works employees; he said they did a great job, cared deeply about the community, and showed real pride in their work. But money was tight, and costs associated with maintaining the service were growing each year — salaries and benefits for the DPW employees, the purchase of new vehicles, diesel fuel, repairs to vehicles and insurance.
In Sept. 2010, Mr. DeAngelis released the projected savings he believed could be associated with privatization. In the first year, the town stood to save $163,473 and collect another $350,000 through the sale of its vehicles to Mega. The second year projections showed another $148,359 in savings.
Shortly after the council approved the move to a private company, the town turned out an updated list of projected savings — the first year’s savings and increase in cash was estimated at $509,000, and the second year savings jumped to $215,000.
Figures provided by the town’s finance director show that savings projections fell close to actual financials. In its first year (actually, only nine months) with a private vendor, Barrington saw $519,000 in savings and increased cash from the sale of its trucks. In the second year, the town saved $215,845. Now, half-way through its third year, Barrington is on track to save $27,078, more than double the projected savings of $11,755.
“This is one decision this manager will not go back on,” Mr. DeAngelis said. “We didn’t make a mistake. We couldn’t afford to.”
Mr. DeAngelis said he remained confident in his plan even amidst the sometimes loud objections.
“I should know more about this ... this is what I do. It doesn’t surprise me that everyone had different opinions,” he said.
One of the areas disputed during earlier discussions was the town’s calendar for replacing trash and recycling trucks, and how much money should be included in the capital plan estimates.
Officials showed a schedule of replacing vehicles every seven years while DPW personnel said some trucks remained on the road longer than that, therefore challenging some of the projected savings.
At a council meeting more than two years ago, some Barrington residents pleaded with the board to keep the collection services in-house. Part of their plea focused on the level of services provided by the local DPW workers.
But fears of what was to come with a private company were unfounded, said Mr. DeAngelis.
“I think residents would agree that the transition from public to private has been seamless,” he said. “The service continues to be good quality.”
In addition to cost savings, the town also went from bi-weekly recycling collection to once-a-week pick-up. Mr. DeAngelis said Mega officials understand the need to provide high quality service to Barrington residents.
“He (Mike Mega) knows what he has to do to keep this contract. It’s his reputation as well,” Mr. DeAngelis said.
The town signed a five-year contract with Mega that included two option years. Contract increases are tied directly to the consumer price index (CPI).
“I carry this theme: I try to create a partnership with the vendors. If I beat up that vendor on price, that doesn’t do either side any good,” Mr. DeAngelis said.
The cost-savings are easy to understand, he added. The private company enjoys an economy of scale — they have more trucks, on-staff mechanics and negotiate deals with non-union laborers.
“This is a business that a municipality should not be in,” he said. In fact, the RIPEC study presented to Bristol officials noted that just six communities in all of Rhode Island still handle their own refuse and recycling collection services.
Mr. DeAngelis said removing the refuse pick-up from the DPW’s list of duties has allowed the department to better focus on other tasks.
“I think we actually have a better department,” he said.
Bristol officials plan to continue their discussion regarding privatization in the near future.