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CITY ATTORNEY: ” IS THIS A SOLUTION IN SEARCH OF A PROBLEM?”
Companies providing trash container services for commercial businesses and construction sites in Cotulla will now be regulated and face franchise fees for a job that the municipal government cannot offer.
Lengthy discussion over whether Cotulla stands to benefit from charging franchise fees was countered by cost estimates of offering a service, and councilors learned this month that providing large containers and haul-off service may be beyond the city’s capability.
City Attorney Steve Pena presented the council with a draft ordinance on Thursday, May 11, to establish a solid waste franchise policy that allows haulers to deliver trash containers on a schedule they arrange with their clients after they have been granted permission to use roads and alleys. The ordinance lays out strict guidelines for trash container service and gives the city authority to dispatch a code compliance officer for inspections and, if deemed necessary, to issue orders halting the service.
Atty. Pena, however, suggested to councilors that the ordinance may be more burdensome than the apparent need it serves.
“This is not a big problem in the city,” the attorney said. “Other haulers are coming in with waste roll-off containers. The school district and one of the local clinics are using them. The school contracted a hauler because we could not provide the capacity they needed.”
Pena told councilors that he believes the city should exercise its right to exclusive service for trash collection but that allowance may be made when demand exceeds the city’s capability.
“If these guys come in, we can set up franchise fees,” the attorney said. “We decide when we choose to or cannot provide the service, and there are times when we can’t.
“It’s not like they are sneaking in and not telling us,” Pena added.
Councilors agreed that City Hall may differentiate between a regular contracted trash haul-off service and what the attorney described as “one-off service,” such as the case in construction, demolition or other short-term jobsite trash collection.
“You can grant a thirty-day waiver for a one-off job,” the attorney said.
“We don’t have roll-off Dumpsters,” City Administrator David Wright said after being asked whether Cotulla could serve commercial clients’ needs. “They cost six to seven thousand dollars each, and we would collect only two thousand dollars in trash fees over a year. It takes more than a couple years to recoup the cost.
“We don’t always have the Dumpsters,” Wright said of demands for service. “We are hurting in a department that was already hurting.”
The city’s solid waste collection service operates as a separate department from other utilities. Finance officer Ernesto Garcia III told councilors in May that the department remains approximately $95,000 in the red after having to purchase a new garbage truck. Revenues in solid waste collection topped $487,000 last month but expenditures were still pegged at $583,000. The fund is the only one at City Hall presently operating at a loss.
Garcia told councilors that the department’s account is recovering from the expenditure and has gained approximately $18,000 since his last monthly report.
Councilors were also told that a franchise fee for trash haulers is traditionally set at five percent of their contract with a client.
The new ordinance offers City Hall an opportunity to earn income in solid waste collection despite not providing the actual service.
Atty. Pena countered that the ordinance may apply to few operators.
“Is this a solution in search of a problem?” Pena asked. “There’s not much construction going on here.”
Wright said the ordinance will include a requirement that independent trash haulers pay an annual fee of $1,000 upon registering with City Hall and before making their franchise fee payments.
The city attorney said that an ordinance has advantages in regulating all trash collection services but acknowledged that rule enforcement is complicated by the fact that Cotulla cannot offer the same service itself.
“It’s hard to tell them to get their Dumpster out of here when we are the ones who told them to go get a Dumpster,” Pena said.
“I would like to be in a place that we have the Dumpsters that we need,” the city administrator said.
Both Wright and Pena said they believe an ordinance will prevent inequality or favoritism on the part of the city, such as allowing one business to use a hauler at will and then barring another.
Those who do not register a service with City Hall or pay the prescribed fees will be subject to daily fines of up to $2,000.
The city administrator conceded during later discussions at the May meeting that the city does not presently have its own code enforcement officer. Joey Garcia resigned his position last month.
“Companies know that any city they work in has these ordinances,” the city administrator said. “Everybody has to pay.”
“It’s not going to be a big money maker,” the city attorney said. “This applies to anyone who brings in some kind of trash device.”
The motion to establish an ordinance was made by Councilor Tanis Lopez, seconded by Councilor Gilbert Ayala and supported unanimously.