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Changes to Cortez refuse program are needed to prevent price increases for customers, says city manager Drew Sanders

Lucas Brady Woods
A garbage truck in Cortez on February 11. City manager Drew Sanders says the trucks are in need of expensive repairs or, in some cases, replacements.

The Cortez city government may be switching up how it deals with its trash. KSJD’s Lucas Brady Woods spoke to city manager Drew Sanders this week to work through the details.

One possible change includes using an independent contractor for waste management instead of running it through the city. According to Sanders, that’s largely because the cost of the current refuse program is increasing exponentially. He says the factors behind the cost increase include spiking workers compensation costs and expensive equipment upgrades. Sanders also says there are some false rumors floating around about the possible changes.

KSJD News: Mr. Sanders, thanks so much for speaking to KSJD News.

Cortez City Manager Drew Sanders: Thanks for having me.

KSJD News: Can you walk me through the possible changes to the refuse program and Cortes?

Sanders: Yeah, what we did is a budget analysis and realize that our refuse program is actually costing in excess of what we're budgeting, and it's certainly in excess of revenues. So we've got this problem. And I approached the council with it and explained it to them. And they want me to address this. And so that that's where we're at. Unfortunately, the the narrative was taken away from us after we announced that this was possibly coming. And so we wanted to approach the public with it and just get some facts out there.

KSJD News: Tell me how that narrative was changed. Like, what is that narrative? And why is it wrong?

Sanders: Well, I'm not exactly sure on everything that's being said out there. But we hear things coming back to, you know, that we're just not going to be picking up garbage anymore. We had a whole bunch of calls from folks yesterday saying that we're just abolishing the refuse program and the communities on his own. We've also the false rumors out there that somehow prices are going to go up for taxpayers exponentially. And that's just not the case. So we are just, you know, we feel strongly we're accountable to the public. And when we find a problem like this, we feel even more strongly that we have a responsibility to the taxpayers to address it and address it quickly. Outsourcing is an option. We have not got quotes in at all yet. In fact, we haven't even had a chance to put out an RFP just yet. But we're working on that and trying to figure out what next steps are so that we can make the right moves.

KSJD News: So what are the benefits to using a contractor for the refuse program as opposed to running it through the city?

Sanders: Well, the long and short of it is to control costs. Now, I don't know exactly what are the quotes will be coming in, I have a rough idea. And likely that will be as cheap or cheaper than what we're doing. When you take into consideration that our costs exceed our revenues by almost $200,000. When you consider that we need to buy a significant amount of equipment ranging from, you know, at least a half a million to maybe three quarters of a million dollars, we'd have to invest, I think all of that combined creates a totality of a circumstance that is considerable, especially when a private company is likely to be far more efficient, and therefore costs are likely lower.

KSJD News: So in a way, some of the costs that the city would have to take on, like the maintenance costs of the trucks and things like that, will go through the contractor, which will then allow the city to lump it into one total cost, correct?

Sanders: Well, sort of our intent were me, the contract company would have their own truck. So we would not have that responsibility at all, we would not own any equipment, the contract company would basically run the service for us. And then they would build a city for that scope of work. And then the city would continue to build our residents, just like we are now

KSJD News: What kind of cost increases will there be for the people of Cortez?

Sanders: Initially, none. And for the foreseeable future, we would try to keep costs almost exactly what they are. Now understand, where are we to keep this in house to make this pencil, right, we would have to seek a significant rate increase. But that's not what we're doing right now. We're trying to find ways to keep the price about the same for consumers. And in the meantime, save money and be good stewards of the city funds.

KSJD News: What about the current refuse program employees? How would they be considered with this proposed transition?

Sanders: Well, as part of our request for proposal, we would request the coming company absorb them.

KSJD News: So they would experience no changes to their pay or anything like that?

Sanders: Well, I can't guarantee anything like that. What I would suggest is likely an outcome is that their working conditions will get better. The work, you know, these amount of strenuous work that they have to do would go down and their pay likely would go up. I mean, to be quite honest. In our current circumstance, we can't really pay these folks what they're worth.

KSJD News: So hopefully it will be beneficial for the employees?

Sanders: Well, that's the idea you know, and if we can absorb some of them we will if you know the new company can take some We're really trying to, you know, give our employees some options. We are not intent on just laying people off. That's just not the case. But in the meantime, we have to do what's right for the city as a whole. Like I said, we're really just trying to do the right things for the community. We know this is difficult. And we know that change is upsetting sometimes for the community. It's not our intent to do that. But it is our intent to do the right things for them. And sometimes these little changes are what's needed to make things even better in the future.

KSJD News: Mr. Sanders, thank you so much for joining us today.

Sanders: Thank you very much for having us, and it's always a joy to be on your station.

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Lucas is the News Director for KSJD Community Radio. His work focuses on serving the public of the Four Corners with responsible, factual reporting.
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