Bowing to public concerns, the White Salmon City Council has agreed to take another look at a proposal to privatize the city's garbage collection service.
"The City Council and staff have agreed to move forward on reviewing privatization," said Mayor Roger Holen during the Aug. 5 meeting of the five-member council.
Holen explained that the decision does not mean privatization will be forthcoming; it simply means the council will consider whether the stumbling blocks to accepting a contract can be overcome.
Holen said the city's Health & Sanitation Committee suggested taking another look at the possibility of privatization, and Tim Stone -- one of three council members who earlier expressed opposition to the plan -- agreed to the review.
According to Holen, council members will have until Sept. 9 to draw up a list of whatever concerns they have with the proposed privatization idea.
On Sept. 16, the city will have a work session regarding the proposal. Then, on Sept. 17, the City Council will have the opportunity to vote on whether to proceed with efforts to negotiate a contract that could transfer the city's garbage collection to Bingen Garbage Service. BGS was the only bidder during the city's earlier open bidding process.
"Remember, once negotiations are completed, this will come back to the City Council for adoption or rejection," Holen explained. "We're trying to get this taken care of before we're too far into the budget process for 2004."
Council member Francis Gaddis, an opponent of privatization, said he was not happy that the council was going to reconsider its earlier decision not to privatize.
"I still have the same problem I had," Gaddis said. "We're going to overturn a solid vote. We need to get an opinion from the state, maybe from the Attorney General's office, as to whether that's something we can do."
Holen explained that, according to Robert's Rules of Order, one of the council members who voted against the matter had the right to ask to bring it back before the council to take another look.
Stone said he was making no promises about the outcome, but believed it was right to review the concept.
"Obviously, the public is concerned about this," Stone explained. "We as city officials owe it to them to explain our decision. It will be a tough row to hoe to change our earlier decision, but I'm prompted to look at this by the public response."
Penny Morris, another council member opposed to the privatization plan, noted that a petition drive showing support for privatization may have been misleading.
"I've looked over the petitions," Morris said. "Some names were on there twice, and many were not living within the city limits of White Salmon."
Mike Zitur, co-owner of the Elkhorn Restaurant, said he organized the petition drive.
"When I put out the petition, I asked people to be living in the city before they signed, but some people just signed it to express their voice," he said.
Zitur said the bottom line was, the City Council did not appear to weigh the privatization proposal adequately.
"What I found out is, it didn't seem like this proposal went through due process," Zitur explained. "I believe the city didn't take a fair look at this. I don't necessarily favor privatization, but I want to make sure there was a good close look."
Mayor Holen concurred with Zitur's viewpoint.
"Regardless of the outcome, I'm pleased we're going back to look at this. It may come out the same way, but to look at this is good," Holen said.
"And the public will feel better about this too," Zitur noted.
Gaddis said he remained opposed to making a change in the way the trash collection service is handled.
"I personally feel the city has done a good job of taking care of garbage," he said. "You lose one thing and pretty soon you lose another, and another, and pretty soon you lose the city."
Council member Susan Gookin saw it differently.
"I'm concerned that some of the costs we'll be required to invest to keep this service, we will never get back," Gookin explained. "We're never going to make income on this, it's just an expense, and we're looking at definite cost increases if we don't at least reconsider this."