Harrisburg council scrutinizes trash, parking deals

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During several hours of committee meetings Thursday, Harrisburg City Council members scrutinized two deals impacting people in and outside of Harrisburg.

Council member Sandra Reid has raised several concerns about a plan Mayor Linda Thompson’s administration has been working on to privatize trash collection in the city.

After receiving bids, the administration has chosen Republic Services to take over that work.

The city’s chief operating officer, Bob Philbin, said the deal would save the city about $900,000 per year.

“What the citizens can expect is 100 percent improvement in the sanitation services being delivered to the city. That’s what this is all about, making sure the city is clean,” said Philbin.

City Council President Wanda Williams said she’s concerned about how quickly the deal is moving. She said she only found out about how far along it is when city sanitation workers contacted her to say they were being interviewed by Republic for potential jobs.

Williams said she received a legal opinion this week saying council needs to approve the contract.

“We’re very skeptical,” said Williams. She added there are 22 sanitation workers in the city, and that she’s been told Republic can hire most but not all of them.

Reid held a public works committee meeting Thursday with representatives from Republic, including Don Isabella, a municipal services manager.

Isabella said the company will provide residents with larger recycling bins, help the city take advantage of recycling grants and will have staff dedicated to handling customer service issues in Harrisburg.

He pointed out any current employees who wish to work for Republic would have to commute to York to get their trucks and then come back to Harrisburg to collect trash.

Council member Kelly Summerford questioned what would happen on days with inclement weather.

Isabella said the company services 35 municipal contracts, some of which require greater travel distance than from York to Harrisburg. He said last year there were “one or two days” where there was a delayed start in trash collection.

Managers say their current employees are not part of a union.

That’s a concern to Council President Williams and the city employees’ union representatives.

“We are 110 percent opposed to this. This could be done better by our employees. They have a long-time relationship with the residents here,” said David Gash, president of the Harrisburg Regional Central Labor Council.

It’s unclear when council will vote on the contract. Republic managers said they hope to start work in Harrisburg by February.

Council members also spent about three hours looking at the plan to lease the city’s parking assets, which is part of the receiver’s Harrisburg Strong Plan.

Council held a public hearing, which had been delayed over concerns the complicated deal was moving too quickly to be adequately scrutinized.

Speaking to attorneys and financial advisers working on the deal, Council member Bruce Weber said, “None of us can keep up with it all. It’s amazing you guys can. And, that’s a real concern, that something significant is then not taken care of.”

While the deal would raise fees as well as garage and meter rates, it would also generate about $1.4 million in cash annually for the city. It would also bring in $39.2 million up front. That money would be put into funds to address economic development, infrastructure repairs and pay general obligation bonds.

Council is moving forward with a vote on whether to approve the deal Tuesday evening.

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