BERNALILLO — Sandoval County could be sued any day for not applying equal protections of law and violating the state’s anti-donation clause, County Attorney Robin Hammer says.
The county has a trash-removal contract with two vendors: Universal Waste Management, which picks up waste in most unincorporated areas of the county, and Road Runner Waste Service, which picks up waste in Placitas and parts of Corrales.
The two companies pay the county landfill $17.50 per ton, while other trash-removal companies pay $30 per ton. This difference in price causes an equal protection issue, County Manager Wayne Johnson said.
Additionally, the county awarded $56,941 to Gordon Environmental to conduct a study on the county landfill’s cost of service and rate design, according to county spokesman Stephen Montoya. To break even, the landfill needs to charge vendors about $26.94 per ton, according to the study.
This means UWS and Road Runner Waste are paying less than what it costs to operate the landfill, violating the anti-donation clause, Hammer said.
Johnson asked Sandoval County commissioners at the March 4 meeting to approve a 30-day written notice to terminate contracts with UWS and Road Runner Waste. In turn, the county and the vendors would go into negotiations.
Commissioner Jay Block, District 2, expressed concerns about what the county would do if negotiations failed with both contractors and pickup services stopped.
“In general, worst-case scenario, if both haulers decide to discontinue services, the residents would need to haul their trash to one of our convenience or transfer centers for pickup,” Johnson said. “I tend to doubt that will happen. I think that the more likely outcome would be, you would see a rate increase for curbside pickup across the unincorporated county.”
In addition, Block asked for the number of homes UWS and Road Runner Waste are serving. The county has requested that information from UWS but not Road Runner, Johnson said. UWS is obligated under the contract to provide that information, but has not yet.
“This is not just about a contract that you negotiate with a hauler. This is about coming into compliance with state law, and that is our primary focus,” he said.
Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald, District 5, agreed with Block.
“Commissioner Block indicated that there might be 1,900 homes that could be affected, and those numbers have been brought up to the commission on numerous occasions that those numbers are only kind of accurate. If we stop curbside pickup for these 1,900 residents, it is going to cause a big problem, especially if UWS decides that they are just going to stop,” Eichwald said. “It is going to create a big problem for us for a big period of time before we can actually get someone to go pick up all that trash, and it is just going to cause a lot of residents to go dump it in the arroyo.”
To get accurate information from UWS, the county would send an independent auditor, Johnson said.
The commission unanimously agreed to postpone the issue for 30 days with the direction to Johnson to gain audited data on the number of homes being served, the amount of tonnage being transferred and the related costs to serves those homes.
The next county commission meeting on March 18 will be live-streamed at sandovalcountynm.gov, under “Quick links” in a tab called “meeting videos.”