“The status quo is simply not acceptable to me anymore, and I know there are many citizens who feel the same.” Chris Loar, Parish Council chairman
GONZALES — The owner of Ascension Parish’s only local garbage service provider has taken to the offensive to try to stop the parish’s push to deliver a curbside residential garbage, recycling and debris pickup program.
Dale Hidalgo, owner of Dale’s Garbage Service, one of three companies that currently offers residential garbage pickup to Ascension Parish residents, sent out postcards this week asking residents to join him in fighting the Ascension Parish Council’s plan.
Hidalgo said in the mailer, as well as on his company’s website and Facebook page, that parish officials were looking to hire a single company to provide the services and mandate that every resident in the parish pay for the services.
“If the parish council puts trash service up for bid you will end up with the cheapest service, not the best,” the flier reads. “Not only that but it will put the only locally owned and operated garbage service in the parish out of business. You will never have another choice again, prices will always go up and service will never get any better.”
Chris Loar, chairman of the parish council, said he had been responding to calls and emails from concerned citizens who received the mailer. He accused Hidalgo of using “outright lies” and “fear tactics.”
The parish council isn’t going to award an exclusive contract to one company to provide the services. Instead, Loar said, the council authorized the administration to prepare a request for proposals to get prices from vendors. The council then will choose three companies who could do business in the parish, and residents still would be able to choose whether they want the services and who to receive them from.
“They get to choose one of the three companies. People still have a choice,” Loar said. “We’re basically just saying if you’re going to do business in this parish, these are the minimal levels. You’re going to have to provide these services.”
Council members chose not to pursue an exclusive agreement, he said, because residents’ desire for choices outweighed the opportunity to save a few extra dollars per month.
The parish’s plan calls for companies to offer two levels of service: basic and premium. The basic plan would include twice-weekly garbage pickup and once-a-week recycling services. The premium plan would add weekly debris and bulky waste removal, as well as monthly “white goods” pickup.
The parish also would charge a 7 percent franchise fee — which would equate to roughly $1.70 per month based upon the $23 to $24 per month residents currently pay on average. That money would go toward road repair projects in the parish, officials said.
Hidalgo said his mailer was based upon the parish’s original plan, which was amended at a July 5 meeting to be inclusive of three companies instead of one. It was also changed so residents would not be forced to pay for services they didn’t want.
“All we did was notify the public,” Hidalgo said. “We made the cards for the first meeting, and they shut that down.”
Hidalgo, however, didn’t change the information on his mailer. He said residents still don’t support the council’s push for the parishwide services.
An online petition hosted on the Dale’s Garbage Service website had received about 575 signatures, excluding anonymous or duplicate ones, as of Friday.
“It’s climbing pretty fast of people who are against it,” Hidalgo said. “They want to have a choice on their garbage service, don’t have a problem with their garbage service in the parish and they don’t want to be charged an extra tax.”
Loar said he believed the three current vendors in the parish could provide the additional services at cheaper prices than they’re charging now. He said the RFP process might bring in even more vendors, potentially driving down prices even more.
Municipalities and parish/county governments across the state and country offer the services that the parish council are trying to bring to Ascension citizens, Loar said.
“The status quo is simply not acceptable to me anymore, and I know there are many citizens who feel the same,” Loar said. “We deserve these basic services just the same as everyone else. I truly hope that it ends up that our current vendors adapt and work towards improving their services and stop taking advantage of our citizens with the over-inflated prices that they pay now.”
Hidalgo said he doesn’t believe officials who say the services could be provided more cheaply. In January, he said, Dale’s Garbage Service increased its prices from $20 to $24, a price hike for the first time in six years that was necessitated by rising prices for dumping at the landfill.
“Our break-even price is around $19 or $20 per month with what we’re doing right now,” Hidalgo said.
He’s trying to work with several councilmen now to provide debris and white goods pickup on a contract basis — where residents could pay whenever they need something picked up, rather than for a monthly service that they might use infrequently.
“We could get a truck and provide this on a call-out basis,” Hidalgo said. “People could call and have that picked up at a minimal expense so everybody in the parish doesn’t have to use it.”
Loar said at least one company that could provide the services at a lower rate.
Officials from Waste Pro USA, which purchased Acadian Waste in January and is the largest garbage pickup provider in Ascension Parish with around 13,000 residential customers, have told parish officials it could provide cheaper services, Loar said
Attempts to reach Wally Carter, the senior vice president for Waste Pro, on Friday were unsuccessful.
Progressive Waste Solutions, which provides services throughout the state, and Allied Waste, which provides garbage services in Sorrento and owns the Colonial Landfill in Sorrento, are other companies that could participate in the RFP process.
Loar said what has been offered is a compromise.
He said parish officials could have bid out for an exclusive contract but chose to continue giving residents a choice in which company they use, and he hopes that the current companies adapt to what is being asked and put forth their best proposals.
“I’m convinced that the end result will be a much better deal all the way around — while still providing people choice — for the people of this great parish,” Loar said.