Trash talks screeched to a halt Monday night with the El Campo city attorney urging caution when debating who can and cannot haul roll-off containers.

“Council voted ... contractually we might be bound ... TDS (Texas Disposal Systems) could take the position that there was an offer and an acceptance,” City Attorney Ronny Collins said.

The advice comes two weeks after council voted unanimously to give incoming garbage collection firm TDS exclusive rights to collection in the city limits. The agreement was one of four changes made in an effort to diminish an anticipated price hike for local residents.

The roll-off exclusivity equals 20 cents per month per account, according to the earlier agreement.

The decision drew ire, however, from some constituents and local company Trust Waste Systems prompting council members Anisa Vasquez (District 1) and John Hancock Jr. (District 4) to bring the question back.

“We read in the newspaper negotiations with the city and TDS were still on going and roll-off exclusivity for TDS had been chosen to save residents an additional .20 cents a month. This decision caught us completely off guard as we thought the contract was a done deal and we got back to work,” TWS spokesman Chris Hawes said in prepared comments he was not allowed to read before council Monday night. “Everywhere in this city all you see or hear is shop local, shop local. Well, making an agreement with a big state-wide company NOT based in El Campo doesn’t sound like shopping local.”

Hawes said his company has invested more than $1 million in equipment and regularly pays city fees.

City staff, however, is having difficulty proving TWS is paying the fees.

“They haven’t been paying what they are supposed to be ... nobody has been able to show me that,” Councilwoman Gloria Harris said, adding she wants all trash service companies to be paying franchise fees.

Hawes says he can provide the information on fees already paid.

City records are more unclear, according to City Manager Courtney Sladek.

“They paid May 30, 2019, in 2020 we’re not showing it,” Sladek said, adding there have also been enforcement issues.

The upcoming garbage contract hasn’t been signed yet, Collins said, but an agreement was made. Any changes, however, would have to be brought back to TDS for approval.

Harris advocated sticking with the already-approved TDS agreement. “We can monitor them better than some of our locals. I trust my city manager and I trust my people to keep up. When there are five or six other local people, it is hard to keep up with that. They should pay (a franchise fee).”

Lost Lagoon RV resort owner Stephen Lucas told council he uses TWS to haul a roll-off container weekly. He owns the container, hires them to pull it and plans to continue to do so. The small local company has the flexibility to respond on weekends, he added.

“It either does mine or I do it myself,” Lucas told council.

TWS contends that hauling without renting the roll-off isn’t even covered by roll-off exclusivity agreements.

That approach, Collins said, is concerning.

“So I can buy a dumpster at my office and have it hauled off? Be real careful,” he told council. “You’re going to loose your franchise tax.”

Instead council opted to suspend discussions after former city secretary Lori Hollingsworth (now the city emergency manager) said the contract is designed to allow hauling without a franchise for temporary situations only – a container at a construction site only, for example.

“There’s no clarity, no enforcement, No one knows who’s doing what,” Vasquez said.

TDS is the primary concern, officials said, with District 3 Councilman David Hodges summarizing the decision to delay talks, saying, “We don’t know if they will raise holy hell.”

The motion to table was approved 7-0 with plans to bring the discussion back at the next session, set for Monday, Sept. 13.

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