City attorney said action violated contract terms; officials say they were unaware of contract details
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Starting July 1, Ashlanders can expect a rate increase for garbage and recycling services, a result of rising costs in the region and around the state and country.
The Ashland City Council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to raise the rate by $1.38 per month for typical residential customers, at Recology’s request. The action avoids going into default with the entity’s franchise agreement that includes the negotiated Consumer Price Index increase.
Ashland City Attorney Katrina Brown outlined that following the March 15 Council business meeting, when a resolution to increase the rate for Recology recycling services for Ashland residents due to increasing inflation costs was voted down.
Mayor Julie Akins cast the tie-breaking vote on March 15 due to a technical issue with Zoom that kept Councilor Stefani Seffinger from casting a vote on the resolution.
“I was contacted by several individuals regarding it,” Brown told councilors Tuesday,
“including the general manager of Recology, Gary Blake.”
Blake informed Brown that, according to the franchise agreement between Recology and the city, the increase was required to avoid a contract default.
“The actual franchise agreement had not been attached to the staff report and the resolution during that March 15 Council business meeting,” Brown said.
Brown confirmed that, in the agreement, it’s actually been negotiated into the agreement and essentially “mandated” that if Recology comes to the city with this rate adjustment, based on the Consumer Price Index, that it be approved.
“If the council were not to approve the resolution, arguably the city’s in default, under the agreement” Brown said.
Brown said the prior franchise agreement with Recology had a different methodology.
“My understanding is this methodology is very clear cut, it’s easy to understand, it’s subjective and that’s why it was negotiated this way in the current franchise,” Brown said.
Brown said councilors weren’t given the franchise agreement at the March meeting, and therefore didn’t have all of the information in front of them when making the decision.
Councilors Shaun Moran and Gina DuQuenne both voted no on the resolution on Tuesday, as they did on March 15. Councilors Paula Hyatt, Tonya Graham, Stefani Seffinger and Stephen Jensen voted in favor.
Prior to the vote, Moran shared his reasoning for voting no in March.
“When Gary came here … we didn’t have that information,” Moran said.
Moran said he didn’t vote no because he was opposed to the increase per se, but he wasn’t clear on the consequences of such a vote.
“I had asked Gary (Blake), a couple of different ways, what would happen if we didn’t approve it and the answer was … that rates would increase by double digits next time,” Moran said.
“I think Ashlanders are done with, hey, we’re just going to raise their rates, how do you like that?” he added.
“Ashlanders don’t get a 6.5% cost of living allowance each year, so … that’s something as a council we have to be cognizant of.”
Blake said the piece of the agreement that requires the city approve a CPI increase below 8% is “widely adopted” across the state of Oregon since 2010.
“The reason this got adopted pretty widely is it’s a much simpler process,” Blake said.
Blake said that this provision negotiated into the agreement is easily understood that if and when inflation goes up, so does the garbage bill for local residents.
Councilors Hyatt, Graham and Jensen expressed their support of repealing the prior vote and approving the rate increase.
“As a city, we have to be trustworthy in our contracting,” Hyatt said. “We have to keep our word, we don’t break contracts and, to that end, I think it’s only appropriate that we vote ‘yes.’”
Jensen shared similar sentiments.
“This relatively small rate increase I think is certainly palatable for the large majority of citizens in this community,” Jensen said.
He emphasized that the city charter could be made clearer in the future where required actions by councilors are concerned within negotiated contracts.
Reach reporter Holly Dillemuth by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.