RIO COMMUNITIES — By a unanimous vote, the Rio Communities councilors approved entering into a contract with Universal Waste Systems, Inc. for its solid waste collection services.

News-Bulletin file photo

According to the contract, the city agreed the term with UWS would be for four years, beginning on April 1. Residential solid waste will be collected once per week, and a minimum of once per week for commercial customers.

The regular price for a 96-gallon cart for Rio Communities residents will be $16 per month, and $5 for an additional cart. Those who are indigent will be qualified for a 15 percent discount, and senior citizens will get a 10 percent discount. Residents will be billed for three months of service.

Commercial property owners will be required to pay $16.08 for a 96-gallon cart, $63 for a 2-yard roll-off container, $78 for a 3-yard container, $92 for a 5-yard container, and so on.

Many residents who attended last week’s meeting voiced their displeasure with the council’s decision of not choosing the second company that submitted a proposal for the contract — AC Disposal Services based in Belen.

Sheri Ulibarri told the council she was “extremely disappointed in the selection of the solid waste provider,” saying the council doesn’t support local business.

“I hope I’m not forced to use Universal Waste,” Ulibarri said. “It’s in my best interest not to be forced to use an out-of-state company.”

UWS is the same company the Valencia County commissioners chose a couple of years ago to be its solid waste company for the unincorporated areas of the county.

Resident Michael Vallejos, who ran two unsuccessful campaigns to be mayor of Rio Communities, said when the founders were talking about incorporation more than seven years ago, they all agreed that no one should be forced to use a single hauler.

“Let the residents choose who they want as a hauler and let competition work,” Vallejos said. “Going to one hauler isn’t in the best interests of the city.”

In June 2019, the council adopted its solid waste ordinance, which states every resident and business owner in Rio Communities is required to “arrange for and receive the solid waste collection service provided by the city or the city’s franchised collector and to pay the solid waste collection fees approved by the city. Fees shall be billed by the franchised collector.”

Wayne Caldwell said he had been looking at several social media sites and 90 percent of comments were in support of AC Disposal.

“I’m one of them,” Caldwell said. “They support everything that goes on in the community.”

Mary Lee Serna, a former city councilor, said the majority of residents don’t want UWS, and want to stay with AC Disposal.

Sabrina Sweeney echoed those statements.

“This is a very large choice you have been handed, and your constituents are overwhelmingly telling you who they would most like as their trash hauler,” Sweeney said. “That’s what you should be doing — representing us.”

Rio Communities Mayor Pro Tem Peggy Gutjahr told the audience the city had to do something about trash in the area, and they’ve been working on the issue for years. She said going forward, UWS will be paying the city its gross receipts taxes.

“I appreciate those comments and the community input and support — I think that’s key,” Gutjahr said. “I look forward for (Universal Waste Systems) to be involved in the community as well and the schools that are here.”

“… It’s been going on for well over four years as a process, and multiple public hearings, articles in the paper, we’ve gone through every opportunity to make sure that our community does not reflect a trash yard,” said Councilor Bill Brown. “The whole process has been thoroughly vetted by two of our staff, our certified procurement officers. Everything has been done legally as required and more.”

Along with residential and commercial collections, UWS will offer a curb-side recycling option to its customers, as well as two recycling drop-off areas, one at City Hall and anther at the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department. The company, according to the contract, will also offer green waste collection twice a year — in the spring and autumn.

UWS will also offer four bulk pick-ups a year at no charge, and will provide one 30-yard roll off container at no cost to the city to facilitate monthly cleanups. They will also offer tire collection twice a year.

The company will also provide reasonable solid waste collection and disposal service to the city government free of charge, and will provide free commercial dumpster collection and disposal to city-owned facilities such as City Hall, the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department and the Tierra Grande Fire Department.

UWS also promised in the contract it would “maintain an office/service center within the city limits” by Jan. 31, 2021.

Mark Blackburn, president of Universal Waste Systems, addressed some concerns, including one regarding those customers who do not pay their bills.

“We’re going to do this the legal way and will go through a collection agency,” Blackburn said. “We will stop service until we get paid.”

Blackburn asked the residents at the meeting to give the company a chance, saying while AC Disposal is a good company, the city had only one choice.

“I do commend this city council,” he said. “That was one of the best RFPs I’ve seen in a long time. This is going to be good for the community.”

What’s your Reaction?

Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.