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Council discusses issues with waste hauler, sidewalk vendor

Officials reflect on recent developments with contracts

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 12, 2019

MADISON HEIGHTS — The Madison Heights City Council has found itself at odds with two major contractors in recent months.

The city is still receiving complaints about the service of its waste hauler, Green for Life Environmental (GFL), leading some on the council to suggest that now might be the time to start considering other options. The city has been receiving complaints since early 2018 about trash not being picked up on time, streets being missed, trash cans being thrown aside and damaged, and more.

Meanwhile, the city’s vendor for replacing sidewalks, Italia Construction, has requested a revision to its contract with the city. Italia Construction claims that it is losing money on the contract, and it wants a price increase of 35-41 percent on most jobs. The council denied Italia’s request.

It remains to be seen whether Italia will continue its contract beyond next year. The contract ends in 2022. Mark Bliss, the mayor pro tem, said that staff recommended honoring Italia’s request, but he disagreed. He said that when the city’s finances were tight during the Great Recession, it still honored its contracts to others, so vendors should honor their contracts as well.

“Why should our residents bail out a private company to the tune of thousands of dollars? (Italia) has attorneys and signed the contract, so they should live with the terms,” he said. “With costs going up to a point where they’re losing money on this contract, I can only commend our attorneys and staff for getting the best deal for our residents.”

He added that should Italia breach its contract with the city, the city may be in a position to sue.

“Their breaking this contract early would have a negative effect on our city’s ability to budget appropriately and execute that year’s projects, so a lawsuit would likely be immediate for those damages,” Bliss said.

That being said, he praised Italia’s positive relationship with the city over the years.

“They’ve done a great job and have been an excellent contractor for us,” Bliss said. “I’m hoping that they will continue to honor the contract they signed with the city in 2015 so that we can continue that relationship going forward.”

Regarding GFL, last year the council narrowly approved a five-year contract extension for the waste hauler by a vote of 4-3. Council members Roslyn Grafstein, Bob Gettings, Margene Scott and Robert Corbett voted in favor of the extension, while Bliss, Mayor Brian Hartwell and Councilman David Soltis voted against it.

“I voted against extending the contract in response to GFL’s failure to perform,” Hartwell said. “Season after season, GFL continues to breach its contract to deliver timely services to Madison Heights residents. Season after season, we get new excuses for GFL’s performance failures. GFL has blamed the weather, traffic, our residents’ yard waste habits, broken trucks, employee turnover and other cities’ backlog. Enough is enough.

“Our taxpayers pay attention to how our largest city contract performs,” the mayor continued. “Sadly, our residents have come to expect from GFL lip service, delays, mess and excuses. There are serious failures with GFL’s performance. I’m not interested in giving them any more time to fix it. The last dozen times GFL said they would address our concerns, the same problems recur. GFL officials must think we don’t pay attention. The wisdom of a majority of City Council — myself excluded — was to extend the contract. I suggest we enforce our contract or have a county judge decide how GFL should uphold its promises. Poorly run companies should fail, not be rewarded.”

However, Corbett cautioned that maybe the council shouldn’t be too hasty in cutting ties with GFL.

“I’m concerned about too much saber-rattling at this moment, threatening break of contract, because I’m not convinced that there are very many alternatives out there in the marketplace,” Corbett said. “Although not likely, it’s not inconceivable we can get into a situation that we fire GFL, but they are the only ones who bid for the new contract, and they end up bidding at a higher rate than what the current contract calls for. Like I said: not likely, but not inconceivable.”

Melissa Marsh, the city manager, agreed.

“Mr. Corbett is correct: Due to the lack of competition in the residential waste hauling market for southeast Michigan, the city’s options are limited,” Marsh said. “Many other cities that have gone out to bid have found they stay with GFL for less favorable agreements.”

Bliss said he would still be interested in evaluating the city’s options for replacing GFL.

“It’s still my hope that GFL will get it together and make the contract extension worth it, but I’m still as skeptical as I was when I voted against the extension,” Bliss said. “There just hasn’t been enough of a track record of good service for me to be optimistic here, so we must prepare for Plan B, which would include getting bids from the other providers in the area, which is something we didn’t do when the vote for this extension took place.”

In a statement, Joseph Munem, director of government affairs and public relations for GFL, responded to the concerns.

“GFL Environmental USA Inc. is proud to serve the residents of the city of Madison Heights. We strive to provide our customers with the same quality service they expect from us each week. When customers have concerns about that service, we listen and take action,” he said.

“We made several major service improvements within the last month in Madison Heights, and those improvements have generated measurable results. Our team welcomes Mayor Hartwell’s request to publicly discuss these improvements at an upcoming meeting of the City Council.

“GFL works with our municipal partners to ensure (high) service levels. We have a long history of constructive teamwork with city administrators. We look forward to many more years of providing Madison Heights residents with the quality service they expect and deserve.”