Some Purcellville businesses have been accustomed to walking their trash to the curbside as part of the town’s weekly pickup. But that’s not a service the town intended to provide, and not one its refuse contractor has been paid to provide.
In January, American Disposal Services conducted an audit of its services and found that it had mistakenly been collecting trash from a host of the town’s more than 300 businesses. When the trash company informed the town, staffers said they would send letters to the businesses to let them know their trash would no longer be collected. But before that communication occurred, American Disposal informed the businesses on their own, prompting concerned responses from 10 of the affected businesses.
One of those responses came from Saint Andrew Presbyterian Church Pastor Dave Milam. He expressed concerns in emails to the mayor and Town Council that the trash service was being discontinued, that it was being discontinued so suddenly and that the church had learned of the change from American Disposal and not from town staff.
“Having just established our church budget for the year, we are now challenged to make a significant adjustment,” Milam wrote in a Jan. 30 email to Mayor Kwasi Fraser, adding that the change was made without giving the church and the other affected businesses a chance to object. “For a government that purposes to be transparent this does not seem to measure up to your promises.”
In a Feb. 25 email to the entire Town Council, Milam wrote that the church would need to spend nearly $10,000 on a new trash pickup contract and to install a concrete slab and fence around a new dumpster.
That additional dumpster would accompany an 8-yard Waste Management dumpster that sits in the church parking lot now. Town Manager David Mekarski said it’s his understanding that Saint Andrew has a pre-existing contract with Waste Management.
Milam wrote that the church also had already spent more than $8,000 to fix an underground water leak, $1,000 on a high utility bill and another $1,000 to pay the town’s water leak fee.
“In other words, just over 50 days into 2020 we have $20,000 of unanticipated expenses,” Milam wrote.
In his emails, Milam called the town out for “unwisely” stewarding its resources in recent years—a call to the town’s flawed investigation into now-discredited claims of misconduct against the police chief that led to other investigations and stuck the town with close to $1 million in associated fees and several lawsuits, one of which is still outstanding.
“The perception of that consequence now leaves me to more deeply wonder if cutbacks are a reaction to that mistake,” Milam wrote.
Milam has not responded to comment further on the matter.
Administration Director Hooper McCann said the trash service dilemma arose because several town businesses continued to place their trash on the curbside even after the town staff had informed them they were not a part of the town’s contract with American Disposal.
McCann said that when she sent the letters to the affected businesses on Jan. 24, she also sent letters to other businesses she thought might like to know about the situation just in case they had been taking advantage of American Disposal’s town trash route. In all, she sent out 56 letters.
McCann said the town staff and American Disposal representatives miscommunicated with each other and that before the town’s letters could be sent out, American began reaching out to businesses. She said that of the 10 businesses that responded to the notification, most of them simply were interested in learning how they had been included in the pickup route in the first place.
Per McCann’s request, American Disposal continued collecting trash from the affected businesses until Feb. 3.
Mekarski said he met with Milam last week and that the meeting was cordial and went well. He said the town is looking into offering Saint Andrew, and the other affected businesses, trash pickup service either through the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, or until the town signs a new contract with American Disposal or a different company later this calendar year. Mekarski said he would share pricing with the Town Council this month.
“We’re do our due diligence,” he said.
Purcellville is in the majority of Loudoun towns that do not pay to have their businesses’ trash picked up. Hamilton, Leesburg and Middleburg are the only towns to feature commercial trash pickup.
But by the end of this year, every western Loudoun town will sign a new trash and recycling contract with a trash collection company. In January, Hamilton, Hillsboro, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Purcellville and Round Hill, along with the Town of Haymarket in Prince William County, advertised a request for proposals soliciting responses from companies interested in managing waste collection in their towns.
While the solicitation was advertised jointly, each town will sign a separate contract with the selected refuse company. Mekarski said Purcellville is looking into adding a commercial component to its new trash contract once that happens, but that it will take some time to determine if that’s feasible for the town and equitable for the many different commercial entities.
“It’s not something that we can easily estimate,” Mekarski said. “It’s not something that we can simply categorize.”
In the current fiscal year, the town has $488,000 budgeted for trash pickup—an increase of $13,000 over the previous year’s budget and $38,000 over the budget from two years ago.