CORRECTION: A previous version of this story contained an error. The actual savings from outsourcing sanitation will be approximately $500,000 per year during the life of the contract, according to Tom Merchel, the township's chief financial officer.
Merchel explained that, while the difference between the Casworth contract and the township's sanitation budget is roughly $800,000, that's not all savings. The township is still retaining the sanitation employees and using them in other divisions of Public Works, and creating four new positions to make room for them. So while all 11 sanitation positions are being wiped off the expense side of the ledger, the addition of four new positions equals a net total of seven positions cut.
After weathering criticism and questions from a mostly oppositional crowd, Moorestown council members OK’d a contract Monday night to outsource trash collection, along with a union deal that will preserve jobs.
The three-year contract with Woodbury-based Casworth Enterprises will cost the township roughly $1.3 million over the life of the contract, according to township manager Scott Carew. By contrast, sanitation services cost the town approximately $1.2 million in 2013 alone. With the decision, Moorestown joins the vast majority of Burlington County municipalities that use private trash haulers.
Township officials stressed that the level of service will be relatively unchanged: bulk collection remains, as does the recycling center. The only noticeable impact may be a change in the collection schedule, though those details are still undecided, Mayor Chris Chiacchio said.
Council Greg Newcomer said maintaining quality of service was one of his chief concerns.
“I investigated every town I could find that used (Casworth) and I could not find quality of service issues,” he said, adding, “We believe we are doing a value-added thing, actually taking one service and making it a better service.”
In tandem with the contract, council also approved a memorandum of agreement with the Communications Workers of America 1036 (CWA)—which represents Public Works, as well as the township’s water and sewer employees and clerical staff—that avoids layoffs by allowing sanitation workers to fill open positions in other divisions of Public Works.
Township manager Scott Carew called the arrangement “the best of both worlds” and credited the CWA and its representatives for their diligence in coming to an agreement.
CWA president Adam Liebtag was less enthusiastic about the deal: “It’s a job security agreement, negotiated under very difficult circumstances.”
“I won’t stand here and say that we support the privatization of sanitation, because we don’t,” he said. “That said, we do agree and we do support—I support—the memorandum of agreement, which is going to essentially provide additional services by reallocating resources from the sanitation division to Public Works … It’s the right thing to do given the circumstances.”
Both Liebtag and township officials noted the depletion of Public Works over the last few years and said the addition of the sanitation workers—who will retain the same salary, benefits and seniority, and perform similar jobs—to other roles within the department will enhance the level of service.
The agreement also contains concessions from the union, including smaller wage increases for the affected workers, that will save the township between $175,000-200,000 per year for the next three.
Despite council’s approval, the agreement with the union is still only tentative until the full union membership—which includes the eight sanitation employees, along with all the other members—approves it, Liebtag said. A vote will take place this week.
When asked by township solicitor Anthony Drollas whether he expected an affirmative vote, Liebtag said, “I hope that it will be approved and we’re going to do everything we can to recommend ratification.”
Some residents questioned the township’s math, wondering how it could save roughly $500,000 without laying off any employees. Carew broke down the numbers, explaining that—in addition to the savings from concessions—the township would also save $50,000 in operational expenses and hundreds of thousands by eliminating the sanitation positions (not the employees).
Though a handful of residents continued to challenge the numbers, Carew stressed, “No one’s playing any games. No one’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes. If that was the case, Mr. Liebtag would have had a lot different tenor when he spoke.”
Others worried the township would find itself in a difficult position when it comes time to renew its contract, suggesting Casworth would jack up its rates.
“I know this is what happens, because for 15 years I represented trash haulers, and that’s what we did,” said Jonathan Eron.Carew, however, dismissed the notion and stressed the township had done its due diligence in picking a vendor and crafting the contract: “The idea that when this contract is over we’re going to be taken to the cleaners is unfounded.”