REYNOLDSVILLE — The Reynoldsville Borough Council voted against a rate increase for Waste Management, citing continuous mistakes and issues with billing from the company, after a lengthy discussion with representatives from the company at the work session on Monday.
Bob Burdzy, a public sector representative, and Ed Yahner, senior district manager, attended the meeting to request a 3 percent rate increase and address concerns of the council. This meeting was a result of Waste Management moving to increase the borough’s bills by 3 percent at the start of the new year without having it approved by the council first.
This unapproved increase has since been fixed, but Waste Management was still requesting the approval of council to move forward with the increase. Burdzy explained it was in the best interest of the council to approve it because the contract with Waste Management ends at the end of this year.
The 3 percent increase will change bills from $19.50 to $20.09 per resident per month. There has not been a price increase since 2019. Burdzy said when the contract ends, because of the trend in prices, he is “pretty certain” there will be pricing increases.
“If we do 3 percent now, maybe it won’t be such a culture shock. If you said no to it and all of a sudden 2023 comes and everyone’s like ‘what’s going on,’” Burdzy said.
He recommended when the contract ends, the borough negotiates for an extension which will keep the negotiations local. He said if the contract goes out for bid, it “becomes corporate. Corporate tells us what the margins are.”
“So our contract with the company was, they’re to come to us before we have any type of increase, but they (citizens) were already billed with an increase before coming to us,” Kyle Gordon said. “I’m just thinking credibility, there’s a lot of ‘we might do this, we might not do this’ when we have a contract that wasn’t even kept with.”
Ralph “Tucker” August made the motion to approve the increase, and was seconded by Max Smith, but the vote was split, leading to roll call vote. The roll call ended in a 3-3 tie, leaving Mayor Mark August to break the tie. August voted against the increase, denying the request.
During discussion, Council President Bill Cebulskie raised concerns about how many of the residents’ bills have had mistakes on them in the last year. He said it has been a great expense of time on behalf of borough Secretary Jackie Dixon, who has fielded hundreds of calls and concerns on such issues.
He later said that in the last three days, she has had 97 calls related to the increase. Dixon herself said she received 426 calls for billing issues from May to the end of the year.
“Probably 300 of them were prior to the last three days. I got 97 phone calls or people stopping in my office because their bills increased,” Dixon said.
Yahner spoke up to explain that a major issue is in telling which customers live in the borough and which don’t, as some have a Reynoldsville zip code but are outside of the borough. This is a common problem across the state, according to Yahner.
“I’m grateful for Jackie’s time because she does make us well aware of it, and we can get it fixed,” Yahner said.
Burdzy said automation is “sometimes our worst enemy” when it comes to such mistakes in billing. If an address is not coded in the system right, it has to be caught and fixed.
“If the account’s not set up property, no fault of any municipality or resident –billing errors,” Burdzy said.
He said they get them corrected as Dixon reports them to the company, but suggested they go down a list together to ensure all the borough accounts are listed correctly. Dixon disagreed that issues were fixed as they were reported, saying she has gotten calls from the same people multiple times.
“I’ll go through a list and tell you who’s in the borough and who’s not, that’s not a problem,” Dixon said. “I’ll go through 1,100 people if I have to to get it fixed.”
Gordon asked if the issues of a rate increase could be revisited later, after seeing if some of the other billing issues get resolved. Burdzy said the rate increase wouldn’t take effect until April, so they have until then to revisit the issue.
“I think your proposal is valid given the rate of inflation and the times that we’re in. I have a hard time on behalf of our constituents, voting for an increase that was already imposed on them without going through the proper channels first, and during your presentation still noting all the loose ends and bugs still in the system and not resolved,” Gordon said.