Transparency on Solid Waste

By Kathleen Sloan

HERALD Reporter

The City of Truth or Consequences old-guard city commission approved a slew of projects and contracts without passing ordinances and holding public hearings. For example, the $1.57-million water tank repair project, the $1.5-million solid waste collection center construction project, and shortening the municipal airport runway were not approved via ordinances with attendant public hearings.

The city was poised to do it again at the Tuesday, March 13 meeting, but new Commissioner/Mayor John Mulcahy derailed the attempt, supported by the new board.

A memorandum of understanding was on the agenda under the “Discussion and/or Approval,” section of the agenda. That MOU is a five-year contract with the Las Cruces-based South Central Solid Waste Authority. It would give that body the exclusive right to pick up, transport and take in trash left over after the city recycles what it can. Key words: Five-year exclusive contract.

That contract separates out three payments. The “base fee,” for wear and tear on trucks and truckers’ salaries is $99,000 a year, but could go up after the first year. Gas payments are not named because the price will vary and all indicators point to increases. Tipping fees are about $25 per ton, but could go up as well.

The contract does not have to go out to bid because state procurement allows government-to-government contracts. The City of Truth or Consequences has offered no research on competing pricing exercises, such as the cost of buying their own trucks or hauling to the Socorro landfill. The MOU effectively knocks out competition in providing trash services.

One such competing vendor would be New Mexico Waste Service Owner/Operator Bill Radosevich. He currently services Elephant Butte and the Village of Williamsburg. In a Friday, March 16 interview, he said he has been trying to meet with local municipalities on this solid waste issue. “Elephant Butte has been great. They have invited me to their April 4 meeting.”

“We are concerned that Sierra County citizens are not getting the best value for their money without the due process of RFPs (requests for proposals) and bidding,” said Radosevich.

Radosevich recently inserted a letter in his billing statements that warned customers that prices will change after the Truth or Consequences landfill closes in August. “Current cost estimates from the City are in the neighborhood of $80 per ton for disposal. The current rate is $15 per ton at the city landfill that NMWS utilizes now,” says the billing letter.

“Rest assured that New Mexico Waste Services is working hard to find other more affordable options for your waste. NMWS is pursuing opening our own privately run transfer station to accommodate our customers. If NMWS pursues this avenue, we would appreciate any support,” says Radosevich’s billing letter.

Placing the MOU under discussion/approval part of the agenda, rather than the public hearing portion of the agenda, is but the latest attempt to leave out city residents and local municipalities in the decision-making process.

The City of Truth or Consequences held a workshop on Jan. 10, inviting local municipalities and Elephant Butte Lake State Park. City Manager Juan Fuentes said the city wants those entities to help pay for the Solid Waste Collection Center and ongoing operations.

Despite this request to partner, Truth or Consequences City Commissioners made a unilateral decision on how to finance the construction of the solid waste collection center – about a half-hour after the workshop. The city commission passed a bond issue, which uses city business and resident trash service fees as collateral for the subsequent loan based on the bond.

In a similar move, local entities were not informed or consulted about this MOU with South Central Solid Waste. County Manager Janet Porter Carrejo said, “No, I know nothing about this. If the city wants us as partners, they need to consult with us before –not after– they make a decision.”

Elephant Butte Mayor Eunice Kent also confirmed their city was not contacted.

The Village of Williamsburg Trustees, similar to Truth or Consequences commissioners – without a public hearing, voted not to participate in Truth or Consequences Solid Waste Collection Center’s possible Joint Powers Agreement at their February meeting.

Newly elected Commissioner John Mulcahy, at the beginning of the Tuesday, March 13, meeting, bucked the trend of commissioners mutely rubber-stamping what comes before them. He tried to get the MOU agenda item moved to the “public hearing” section of the agenda.

City Manager Fuentes said the agenda item should stay in place. “The public can comment” when the agenda item comes up, said Fuentes.

City Manager Jay Rubin had trouble with this neither fish-nor-fowl type of public hearing. He said, “If it’s going to public hearing, then it must be noticed and put on a future agenda.”

Mulcahy said, “That’s what I would like to have done.”

But old-guard Commissioner Steve Green said, “We can discuss it. We don’t have to approve it and then we can honor Commissioner Mulcahy’s desire for a public hearing. We are not mandated to act on it.”

The new commission allowed the item to remain under decision/approval, which could have resulted in the MOU being passed with no public hearing, but didn’t.

County Commissioner Walter Armijo, during public comment, said, “We want the county to meet and work with the city on this MOU,” and asked the new commission to postpone the decision.

This new commission did postpone any action.

Mulcahy asked that a public hearing be held, with local entities invited.

City Manager Fuentes was charged with scheduling that public hearing as soon as possible.

But it turns out there will be no public hearing, but a workshop instead, with no public comment allowed.

At the Thursday, Village of Williamsburg meeting, Mulcahy introduced himself as mayor of Truth or Consequences and invited Trustees to attend the workshop, set for Thursday, March 22.

A legal ad published last week says city staff and the city commission will have a “Work Session,” 1-4:30 p.m., at the Truth or Consequences Civic Center’s Ralph Edwards Auditorium, 400 W. Fourth Ave. The purpose of the work session is “Presentations by city staff.”

At 5 p.m., same day, same place, the city will hold a joint work session with Sierra County, says the ad, but Mulcahy says the Village and Elephant Butte have also been invited. A legal ad in The Herald, included in this edition, will correct the exclusion of those two municipalities that was printed in the Sentinel on Friday, March 16. Mulcahy said a public hearing will be held sometime soon after these work sessions.

This reporter called the South Central Solid Waste Authority Executive Director Patrick Peck. He confirmed that he has been invited to the work sessions. This reporter asked Mayor Mulcahy and City Manager Fuentes if any competing vendors will also be invited. Mulcahy is not sure, but thinks competitor information will be sought and presented, if not at these work sessions, then in the future. Fuentes did not answer the request for information by press time.


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