Dealing with the tender topic of trash


Ian McCallum

Ian McCallum


Judging by complaints from residents received since Christmas and concerns raised by council and city staff, it’s obvious the waste management agreement with BFI Canada is a tender issue … as in it’s time to throw this contract open to other bidders.
The fact BFI district manager Dave Raney was a no-show at Monday’s council meeting and instead forwarded a letter of clarification to John Dewancker, director of environmental services, sends a message the waste management firm will play hardball when the two sides meet Jan. 30 to resolve outstanding issues.

In his letter, Raney stresses “we have more than complied with the servicing and notification requirements set out by the contract.”
The agreement dates back to 1994 and the days of Bob McCaig and the Green Lane Environmental Group and hasn’t been amended since 1997.
However over the holiday period, staff and members of council were cornered with complaints over pick-up dates, fees for Christmas tree disposal and concerns (including one letter to the T-J) recycled items were being thrown in with household garbage.
Environmental services chairman, Ald. Tom Johnston, insists BFI hasn’t lived up to its obligations, a sentiment echoed by Ald. David Warden.
“This opens up a real quandary to me. Because to me, the contractor is in breach of its contract,” advised Warden.
“If these people (BFI) don’t want to do the job here as according to the contract, we could very well come back to this council and say we’re going to request for proposals,” added Mayor Cliff Barwick.
Let’s hope that’s not an idle threat … as with every city contract, doing business the way it has always been done is just not good enough.
Somebody out there must be hungry to provide good customer service … after all, we’re paying for it.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
It’s been a frustrating start to the new year for Dewancker.
Apart from the tribulations of fielding trash complaints, the director of environmental services would rather not discuss the hiring of the city’s first waste management coordinator and now Mayor Barwick publicly apologizes for an ability to “maintain our standards” of snow removal over the holidays.
To be fair, as a city works employee noted in this corner several weeks ago, “Being a municipal government employee seldom has an upside. We don’t pick up leaves when we should; don’t shovel snow as we should; don’t fill pot holes quickly enough …”
Barwick noted in periods of heavy multiple snow falls, “we don’t spend all our crews in the downtown area.”
Is that an admission the Talbot Street core may be one of the less-travelled routes in his estimation and, in fact, there is more value to plowing secondary and residential roadways?
Not a vote of confidence for Downtown Development Board chairman Mark Cosens and his membership of Talbot Street merchants.
And just when you think it can’t get worse, John, your report to council for Monday on roadway resurfacing needs is bleak at best.
A staggering 27 km. of road surface in the city is rated deficient. Add to that 15 km. of sidewalk and 56 km. of curb and gutters and the task at hand over the next few years is daunting.
Your notation the combined annual value of road resurfacing and sidewalk replacement has been $408,000 over the past few years leaves no doubt this is a case of one step forward and two steps back.

THE SEASON OF GIVING CONTINUES
Last year the city inked a new cellular service contract that admirably saves about $15,000 per year. Well done, you say.
Not so fast with that dialing finger.
Now, Sandra Daters Bere, director of Ontario Works and social housing, on behalf of the management board, wants to take that money and embark on a BlackBerry binge.
Electronic communications devices for all is the post-Christmas wish list for the management board, department heads and an unspecified number of city hall staffers.
All of this at a cost of $22 per month more per unit than the existing cell phones.
So much for the task at hand … reigning in expenses in a display of fiscal responsibility. And what happened to a hands-on approach to management? Where is the personal touch?
Nowhere in this report is there an indication of who will monitor use of these gadgets — opening the door to possible abuse as was the case with staff cell phones.
With thousands of residents losing their jobs, a global economic meltdown and a long road to recovery, Sandra and management board members need to commit to memory the following one-word mantra … restraint.
For once, lead by example. Just because you didn’t get a BlackBerry under the Christmas tree doesn’t mean city ratepayers should gift wrap one for you.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I think we have to drive home that we’re dissatisfied with this letter, this service.”
Mayor Cliff Barwick delivers a clear message from city council and St. Thomas residents to Dave Raney, district manager for BFI Canada, that his failure to attend Monday’s council meeting and instead send a letter of clarification, is not the way to conduct the business of waste management.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

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