Erica Baker

Councilwomen Erica Barker: “I understand they’re under contract, but the (fee) burden is because of us, and we need to make it right.”

Some Maquoketa residents are complaining that they are being forced to pay for a decision made by the city, and some city council members believe their concerns are justified. Other councilmembers strongly disagree.

The issue sprang from the council’s 4-2 decision last month to implement a citywide, curbside garbage and recycling program, which prompted residents, some of whom were customers of Republic Services, to cancel contracts with their vendors.

Some Republic Services customers began voicing complaints to members of the council after they learned the company planned to charge a fee for retrieving its containers. 

The aggrieved customers have told council members that they believe the city should cover the expense.

While the council took no action on the issue at last week’s meeting, members heatedly discussed the topic. The council decided to consider a citywide program following Imagine the Possibility’s announcement that it would discontinue its recycling program June 30.

Some community and council members opposed the citywide hauling program from the start, saying it would drive small, independent haulers out of business or eliminate a resident’s right to choose a hauler. In the past, Maquoketa residents had the choice of selecting their own service or disposing of their refuse themselves.

Program advocates said it would help clean up the city, making it more appealing to people outside the community and possibly raise property values. 

Maquoketa residents will be charged between $16 and $18 per month for the new service beginning in September with a program rollout in August. All city residents will be charged for the new service on their water bills.

As a result, residents began canceling services with their independent haulers. That’s when Republic Services customers began voicing their complaints to the city and members of the council, including Erica Barker.

“I understand they’re under contract,” said councilwomen Barker, “but the (fee) burden is because of us, and we need to make it right.”

Numerous residents also approached councilman Josh Collister about the issue, he said. “It’s a lot of money these people are being charged,” Collister said. 

Republic Services has about 350 customers in Maquoketa. Those customers are being required to pay a $50 retrieval fee for the trash bin and a $50 retrieval fee for the recycling bin, according to information provided by Maquoketa City Manager Gerald Smith. 

Many Republic Services customers pay slightly more than $25 per month for service. At that rate, a customer would recoup the $100 in retrieval fees in about 13 months, Smith explained, because under the new citywide program, customers will be charged either $16.30 per month or $17.40 per month depending on the size of garbage container they elect to use.

Republic Services, in a prepared statement sent to the Sentinel-Press, said it will refund credits due after all outstanding invoices have been paid, including the container retrieval fee. The refund, the company said, will apply to customers who paid in full for the quarter ending Sept. 30.

So what should the city do?

The answer is nothing, according to councilman Mark Lyon.

“These people were going to be paying regardless,” he said, explaining that if Republic Services customers moved, changed providers, etc., they would be responsible for the same fees. “They’re going to have to pay it sometime.”

“Why anyone would choose to go with Republic is beyond me when you could choose to go local,” Lyon continued, and later he advocated for “public shaming for Republic because of how they do business.”

As a “good, friendly gesture,” councilman Dan Holm recommended the city pay Republic Services customers a percentage of the fee.

Smith said Holm’s idea might not be fair to city taxpayers who are not Republic Services customers.

The city’s new waste-hauling program is structured to be self-funded, and since residents have not yet been billed for it, there is no money in the fund, Smith explained. If the council decided to compensate the 350 Republic households, it would cost about $38,000 in taxpayer dollars, which means the remaining 2,050 non-Republic households would be footing the bill for expenses completely unrelated to them.

“I have Rockwell (Cleanup, a Maquoketa-based garbage hauler), and I’d be happy to subsidize,” Barker said.

Smith’s response didn’t sit well with Collister, who said the city already spends too much money subsidizing projects such as the downtown façade project and upper-story housing, putting taxpayers’ dollars “into someone else’s pocket.”

Collister said the city “rushed through” the planning process for the garbage program.

“The council moves way too fast on many things,” Collister said, adding the first reading of a citywide building code to that list.

The city council will take the next week to hear from residents about the topic before deciding if any action is necessary.