Following an almost three-hour meeting Monday night focused almost exclusively on a proposed resolution allowing the city of Farmington to take over residential solid waste collection, the city council unanimously voted down the ordinance after listening to scathing comments and criticism by city residents, as well as owners and employees of two local independent trash companies.
If the resolution had passed, the ordinance would have taken effect April 1, 2022, but only if voters approved it in a general election planned for Nov. 2, 2021. Voters previously defeated consolidating the city’s trash service in 2006.
During the meeting's public comment segment, about 20 residents voiced displeasure at losing their right to choose what company picked up trash at their home. They were also incensed that the general public would have been completely unaware of Monday’s vote if Freedom Waste owner Kenny Chiarelli Jr. had not stopped by last Friday to speak with City Administrator Greg Beavers.
Seeking confirmation from Chiarelli on what occurred at their Friday meeting, Beavers asked, “Mr. Chiarelli, you came to my office at about 3 o’clock — I think it was about 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon on another matter. Is that not correct, Mr. Chiarelli? You came to my office Friday afternoon on another matter related to the transfer station.”
Chiarelli responded, “Correct.”
Beavers continued, “We discussed the matter in relation to the transfer station — I’m on that board — every city administrator in the county is on that board. I told Mr. Chiarelli, ‘While you are here, I want to make you aware of the issue that city council is going to be voting on Monday night’ and I went through the resolution with him and I told Mr. Chiarelli, if city council approves this, I’m going to send you a letter on Tuesday. I had already written the letter because I always prepare for the meetings and the following documents to make sure they’re ready — so, yes, the letter was dated for [Tuesday].
"Mr. Chiarelli asked me if he could see it and I said, ‘Sure.’ I had two copies — one to go out certified and one to go out regular mail — because the law requires that it go out certified. Mr. Chiarelli asked me if he could have a copy and I said, ‘Well, if council approves it, I’m going to be sending it out to you next Tuesday anyway.' Is that not the conversation we had?”
Chiarelli replied, “I actually have the conversation recorded if anybody would like to hear it.”
Beavers said, “Yeah, that’s fine then. And I also said, ‘I believe that council is probably going to vote for it just because we have had numerous committee meetings on it over the last year.’”
Chiarelli interjected, “Right, but your direct words were actually — I said, ‘So, the council has already voted on this?’ And you said, ‘Well, it’s Monday night, but they did ask me to draft this, so…’
Beaver’s letter, postdated Aug. 27, read, “This letter is provided to your company pursuant to Section 260.247 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri to notify you that the City Council of the City of Farmington, Missouri shall exercise its option to enter into the exclusive business of solid waste collection within the city limits.
“The City Council intends to solicit bids from all qualified persons or firms for the purpose of providing exclusive residential solid waste collection and optional curbside recycling services for all occupied single-family residential houses, and all multi-family residential buildings not having onsite trash disposal dumpsters, that lie within the corporate boundary of the City of Farmington, inclusive of all areas to be annexed into the corporate boundary at any time in the future. Sealed bids for services will be accepted for review and consideration by City Council no later than July 1, 2021.
“Provided that the City Council in office at the time accepts and awards a contract for consolidated solid waste collection services, the ordinance approving said contract shall be submitted for approval to the qualified voters of the City of Farmington at the Nov. 2, 2021 general election. If a majority of the electorate vote in favor of adopting the ordinance, solid waste collection services will begin no later than April 1, 2022.”
After receiving a copy of the letter, Chiarelli posted it on his company’s Facebook page and wrote, “As a company, we value our freedoms. Freedom of choice is one of the greatest things about being an American. By making this change, the city of Farmington is taking away your freedom to choose who provides your waste service.
"You will no longer have the option to go to another hauler if you are not satisfied with your service. You will no longer have the option to check prices to find a better deal. You will be ‘stuck’ with the company that the City of Farmington chooses. Eliminating competition eliminates the drive for excellence, the drive to be the best company and provide the best service.
“With today’s uncertainty in the recycling market, we need companies focused on innovation and the creation of new solutions, not just the ones who can do it for the cheapest price. Imagine if the city said you can only have one restaurant in town and the cheapest one gets the spot; who would support that?
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“Waste service is not universal. Some customers want different services, but if this passes, we will lose the option to choose. No new solutions will be brought to the market and the 'cheap' price will become astronomical when all the other haulers are put out of business. This is a slick way to create a monopoly. Why should the city restrain competition?”
Chiarelli concluded his post by asking Farmington citizens to contact their city council member about the planned vote and to attend Monday's city council meeting.
Several of the speakers — all of whom vehemently opposed the ordinance — asked why the council decided to take up the issue at this time. One asked, “Is there a problem I’m unaware of? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Ward 4 Councilman Tom Joyce, who also serves as chairman of the council’s administrative services committee, addressed the question.
“I’d like to speak to my experience,” he said. “Very shortly after I got on the council — that was not all that long ago — I was asked if I would support a single collector and that’s my experience in the town I moved from and we had zero problems. In my experience that was no problem whatsoever. Plus, my experience since I moved to this town is multiple trash trucks driving down the street early in the morning waking me up.”
While the audience had, for the most part, been direct but respectful in voicing their opposition to the change, Joyce’s response raised the ire of the crowd who then directed derisive comments at the councilman.
Ward 4 Councilman Vanessa Pegram explained that she had asked City Administrator Beavers to research other cities in the region to see if they are using a single collector, and when she learned that most were, she thought Farmington residents might like to have the opportunity to do the same. After hearing from the crowd that evening, however, Pegram declared that she would vote against the measure. Several others on the board said the same.
Even though it was obvious by this point that the council was unlikely to pass the ordinance, Tammy Thomure — co-owner of Thomure’s Disposal Inc. in Farmington — drew the attention of the council members and the crowd when she explained that, while the changeover to a single collector wouldn’t go into effect for two years, it had already impacted her business.
Earlier that day she received a call from a local banker who was in the process of approving a loan for Thomure Disposal to purchase a new truck, but after hearing of the city council’s upcoming vote, she was informed that it would be better to wait and see how the situation was going to play out before continuing the loan process.
“I’ve also been considering bringing on more employees,” she said, “but I’m not going to do that if the city is going to be taking away most of my customers in two years.”
Another speaker apologized to Ward 1 Councilman John Robinson for incorrectly stating that the councilman currently worked for a large solid waste collector and that the council’s move might be voting on the ordinance to give the business to his company. While Robinson had previously worked for the company in question, he had since changed his place of employment.
Later in the meeting, Robinson addressed the crowd, saying, “I believe that small business is the lifeblood of this community and I really appreciate every comment — everybody that has come up and spoken. I was neutral on this in the beginning but every one of you — [addressing Tammy Thomure] especially when you told me about how it is affecting your business, we do not want this and that is one thing I didn’t consider.
"I wanted to hear from the public, to really take into account how I needed to vote. There are arguments for and arguments against it, but it is important to this community that every small business thrive — that they have the opportunity to be successful. I do believe in the free market, so I say, ‘thank you,’ to everybody that spoke — and I agree with you.”
Following the vote rejecting the proposed ordinance, the audience rose from their seats and gave the council a standing ovation.
In other action, the board approved a property tax rate of 0.4034 per $1,000 of assessed value for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1; heard a financial report presented by city Finance Director Michelle Daniel; and proclaimed Sept. 8-14 as the city’s observance of National Suicide Prevention Week.