The reconsideration didn't last long. An action item to authorize the city to explore the privatization of the city's garbage service was on the Oct. 1 agenda of the White Salmon City Council, and it was shot down without discussion.
At stake was whether the council would permit city officials to negotiate a contract with Bingen Garbage Service (BGS). Council members recently agreed to take one more look at the privatization idea. On May 7, the council had voted 3-2 not to pursue a contract with BGS.
During last week's council meeting, Mayor Roger Holen noted that the proposed measure would not have approved a contract, but would simply authorize the city to try to work out a deal. The City Council would be asked to approve or reject the contract once its details were finalized.
"According to Robert's Rules of Order, only those council members on the opposing side of the earlier decision [not to pursue privatization] can make a motion to reconsider. Those three are Tim Stone, Francis Gaddis, and Penny Morris," Holen explained. "Is there a motion to reconsider?"
There was a long pause, but no one spoke up.
"The matter fails for lack of a motion," Holen said.
The council's failure to allow negotiations with BGS was met with disappointment from several citizens attending the session.
Jim Herman, a former member of the White Salmon City Council who now serves as accountant for Bingen Garbage Service, expressed anger with the council's decision.
"Having been on the City Council for 12 years, I have never seen anything close to the fiscal irresponsibility I've seen here tonight," Herman said. "To expect the citizens to throw away $50,000 just because you have the power to tax -- it makes me ill."
Herman was referring to the tentative offer made by BGS, which Keyser said would have brought additional revenue to the city via a franchise fee and through budgetary savings.
Erin Anderson, a member of the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce, said he hoped the council would reconsider.
"I've had the pleasure of being served by Bingen Garbage Service for the last seven years and have been very pleased," Anderson said. "If this contract could save money for the city and enhance service, why not support a local businessman?"
Council member Stone said there were good reasons for the council's action.
"In defense of the City Council, White Salmon provides pretty good service at pretty good rates," Stone explained. "We'll try to hold the increased rates to the bare minimum. And the $12,000 franchise fee is diminished by the fact the city would have to pay to have its garbage collection. And I'm not anxious to give up our control of this service to our citizens."
Bill Hearn, the owner of BGS, also spoke to the council.
"Over a year ago, I gave what I considered to be one of the best proposals in any municipalities in the United States," Hearn said. "Contrary to what Stone says, you would not be losing control, you'd be gaining control.The contractor couldn't do any thing without the approval of the City Council. We merely tried to bring a proposal into our realm where there would be more service under reasonable rates. I feel our proposal is probably the best one the city's ever gotten."
The city's Public Works Director, Wil Keyser, said he believed privatization would allow the city, and customers of its garbage service, to save money.
In May, Hearn said that if his company took over service to White Salmon residents, the bills paid by those within the city limits would drop from $9.50 to $8.25 for one can, or from $13 to $12.25 for two cans.
City officials added that if the privatization proposal did not go forward, the rates for city garbage customers would have to be increased by approximately 25 percent starting in 2004.
Mayor Holen said it was possible the issue could be reviewed in January. A new council member is expected to be seated then, taking the place of one of the opponents of the garbage privatization concept.
"A new council person could in fact make a brand new motion," Holen said.
However, the city's attorney, Deborah Phillips, pointed out that there are rules for reconsideration of failed measures.
"That is so matters are not continuously brought up," Phillips said.