OCEAN CITY – A packed holiday weekend in a seashore resort is usually seen as great news, but the huge crowds were cited as a reason for delays in trash and recycling collection.
Throughout the city, collection was delayed by days or more.
“They are still not caught up as of today,” City Administrator George Savastano said at the July 11 City Council meeting. Savastano does not typically offer reports to council at the meeting, but in this instance, he addressed the issue.
“It’s entirely unacceptable. We have provisions in our contract to assess damages. We are considering all of those things and others,” he said.
“I want to assure the council that we are doing everything that we can do to compel compliance with the contract. Quite frankly, today, it’s the largest issue that we are dealing with as a municipality.”
Trash collection is taken for granted, he said, until it is not collected.
Mayor Jay Gillian reached out to residents through email and on the city’s website. He stated the city was taking steps to ensure a similar situation does not happen again. He said the company, Gold Medal Environmental of Sewell, would double the size of the fleet of trash and recycling trucks to catch up with collections.
Ocean City collects trash twice a week from June 10 until Sept. 7, with the island divided into zones. According to Gillian’s statement, the contractor had staff for the routes consistent with other years but was not able to keep up with the dramatic increase in trash and recycling.
Savastano said city officials have spoken to the contractor at length.
“They have offered their apologies and whatever. Again, no excuses. We don’t accept those excuses and we’re going to continue to do what we can to compel compliance with the contract,” he said.
The company is in the second year of a five-year contract to collect trash and recycling, at $720,000 a year, according to city spokesman Doug Bergen.
The city seemed close to maximum capacity over the four-day holiday. The next weekend, more crowds poured in for the Night in Venice boat parade over an exceptionally hot and sunny weekend.
Councilman Robert Barr raised concern over whether there would be new problems over the crowded weekend. Savastano said the company would double its staff to handle the increased demand.
“And they’ve assured you that they will be adequately staffed this week?” Barr asked.
“They’ve assured us, but we also have our own resources. If necessary, we’ll also put our own resources out too. If we have to, we’ll enter into a shared service agreement and we’ll get more trucks than we need from somewhere else. I’m not saying where,” Savastano said.
He is also the administrator for Sea Isle City.
No problems with trash collection were reported over the weekend of July 13 and 14.
No one from Gold Medal Environmental immediately responded to a request for comment on this story.
Councilman Keith Hartzell also questioned how trash containers are handled after the trash is collected. He indicated they are thrown down in the street or alley.
“That’s another complaint, that they throw things willy-nilly. We will deal with that as well. That is another issue. We have many issues that we are dealing with, with this contractor,” Savastano said. He said the city has not been satisfied with the contractor for some time and is looking at legal remedies.
“Listen, they don’t want to get in our crosshairs and now they are,” Savastano said.
During public comment, resident Dave Breeden addressed the issue. Now the vice president of the organization, Fairness in Taxes, Breeden used to work for Ocean City’s Public Works Department when Savastano led that department. Breeden also worked as the business administrator for Barnegat Township.
He questioned whether the city would seek damages under the contract. He described trash collection as a basic municipal function.
“I do know a little bit about solid waste,” he said. He indicated that he had raised concerns with the contract before it was approved.
Later in the meeting, Savastano said he had already made clear the city was looking at seeking damages.
“I could have sworn I indicated to you guys, without saying that, without tipping our hand, we’re looking at that. I thought I was pretty clear about that,” he said. Without mentioning his name, Savastano seemed to criticize Breeden during comments at the meeting.
“People come to these chambers and they purport to know all kinds of things about local government, purport to represent the taxpayers. I’ve never been contacted by them. Not a question, not a suggestion. Nothing.”
He said he is usually content to listen to comments, even though he said many of the matters could be brought directly to the city administration rather than to council. Savastano said staff members are available to members of the public interested in learning or critiquing how operations are handled.
“We know what we’re doing,” Savastano said.
Members of council lent their support to Savastano, including Hartzell, who praised the work Savastano has done and Councilman Mike DeVlieger.
“I love you,” said DeVlieger, drawing a laugh from Councilwoman Karen Bergen.
“Me or George?” asked Council President Pete Madden.
“George,” he replied.
Savastano said he spoke on behalf of his staff.
At the end of the meeting, FIT president David Hayes said the local government should welcome comment, calling the First Amendment a vital part of government. He said the city needs the free and open exchange of ideas, not just when it’s convenient.