Residents will pay more for garbage service after lawsuit
The settlement was reached after Progressive Waste Solutions sued the parish over fees that were being withheld by St. Charles.
The issue stemmed from Progressive’s refusal to pick up large debris piles, which they say was not part of their contract.
Progressive filed a lawsuit against St. Charles Parish earlier this year to recover $29,000 in funds the parish withheld from payments because they felt that Progressive should have picked up those large debris piles.
After discussions with Progressive about the contract, the parish agreed to refund the $29,000. They will also extend the current contract with Progressive by 14 months, and in the future residents will be forced to pay more for garbage service. Next year, residents will pay an additional 45 cents a month, which will increase by 45 more cents a month in 2016.
Absent from the settlement was any movement to hold Progressive responsible for replacing broken trash bins in a timely manner, a problem that many parish residents have complained about.
Buddy Boe, the chief administrative officer of St. Charles Parish, said the dispute was related to ambiguity in the language of the contract and that the settlement should clear up any confusion about responsibilities in the future.
Councilwoman Julia Fisher-Perrier said while she understood resolving the initial dispute over the $29,000, she was uncomfortable with providing the additional provisions in the settlement.
“If you do the numbers it is going to look like over $3 million in tax dollars, not just $29,000 if you look at the extension of the contract, the increase every year they can ask for and things like that,” she said.
Fisher-Perrier moved to table the vote on the settlement and questioned why the parish president’s office had not asked for an executive session to allow the Parish Council to have an in-depth discussion on the pros and cons of the settlement agreement before it was brought before them for a vote.
“We haven’t had an executive session regarding this settlement. Basically what started out as a suit just to collect payment that we withheld for non-performance has really spiraled into something else. I see there is so many pieces and parts to this, I don’t feel that I am prepared,” she said.
However, Boe defended the settlement and said that even with the rate increase the parish will still be paying one of the lowest trash disposal rates in the region.
“Regionally, parishes pay for garbage service between $21 and $25 based on our research. St. Charles residents will pay roughly $16.96 by the end of this current term, so we will still be well below the regional average, and we feel that this is a fair settlement and bodes well,” he said.
Councilwoman Carolyn Schexnaydre agreed that the rates increases would likely not be much of a burden on parish residents.
“Sooner or later the rates are going to go up, it is inevitable with the economy and the price of gas and everything else,” she said.
Boe also warned council members that Progressive could void their contract if the settlement wasn’t agreed upon and force the parish to immediately find another garbage contractor.
Councilman Terrell Wilson said that if Progressive went through with such a move, parish residents could end up paying a lot more for garbage service with a new vendor.
“(If) we have to pay $25 per household I am going to have a very difficult time explaining that (to my constituents),” he said.
Boe said the contract now clearly defines Progressive’s responsibilities. However, he admitted that it is still not perfect.
“It wasn’t perfect before and it won’t be perfect after this. It probably won’t be perfect until the next contract, which is a whole different set of definitions,” he said.
Fisher-Perrier countered by asking why the parish would not want to take more time to ensure the contract would prevent further disputes from occurring.
“I agree that it won’t be perfect, but we are extending it for an additional 14 months so are we making another imperfect contract go 14 months longer?” she said. “I want to pay these people what they are due, no doubt. If they are owed $29,000 I think we need to pay them, but as far as extending the contract I just think the people need a little more explanation and I think we need to scrutinize it even more.”
However, Wilson disagreed with Fisher-Perrier and said he put his trust in the parish administration to have properly assessed the settlement.
“I don’t have a legal degree, but I would imagine we had representation provided by the administration so I’d like to move forward on this tonight,” he said.
In the end, Fisher-Perrier withdrew her motion to table action on the settlement agreement.
“I don’t want to cost the taxpayers any additional money. I’ll voice my concern that we are looking at over $3 million in tax dollars we are playing with here, but I don’t want it to go any further or get any worse,” she said.
The council voted unanimously to approve the settlement agreement, with Councilwoman Wendy Benedetto and Councilman Larry Cochran absent.
The parish government is currently planning a advertising effort that includes sending mailers to all parish residents explaining the new provisions included in the revised garbage contract.
In past months, parish residents have complained about Progressive Waste Solutions’ curbside service, saying trash is strewn about their yard and street, trash bins are left in the middle of driveways and broken trash bins are not being replaced.
Schexnaydre said she has received numerous complaints about Progressive’s service.
“We have plenty of problems - it was with cans, it was with pickups, they pass by, open the top, pick up the top bag and leave everything else. This is constant,” she said.
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