WATERVILLE — The city council is set to debate recycling collection in the city after the mayor and a councilor challenged the administration’s position that the current recycling schedule will stay the same.

Some councilors are questioning why a decision was apparently made without bringing the issue to the council’s attention first.

In an interview Monday, Mayor Nick Isgro said the council will discuss whether the city’s public works department should collect recycling on the weeks that its contractor, Sullivan’s Waste of Thorndike, cannot.

“We told the public that if Sullivan’s couldn’t do it, we would,” Isgro said. “I think it is a small thing for the people of Waterville to ask.”

Isgro said it was a “communication malfunction” on the city side that the issue was never brought to the council, but it will be discussed at next Tuesday’s meeting.

Last week, City Manager Mike Roy said the city’s public works department was not going to collect recycling and the collection schedule would remain unchanged until the contract with Sullivan’s runs out in 2017.

Under the current schedule, Sullivan’s collects curbside recycling on the first and third full weeks of the month. That leaves a handful of times a year when, because of a five-week month, collection is delayed a week.

Residents complained about the gaps in the lead-up to a June referendum on the city’s pay-as-you-throw trash program and city officials said they would talk to Sullivan’s to see if the schedule could be changed or find an alternative, including using the public works department to collect recycling on the off weeks.

In a June 25 memo to the council, Isgro and Roy, Public Works director Mark Turner said that after weeks of discussion, Sullivan’s said it couldn’t change the Waterville schedule because of its contract obligations to other towns. The city discussed collecting recycling on the off-weeks, but decided against it because it would mean picking up recycling two weeks in a row, which could cause confusion, Roy said last week.

That news came as a surprise to Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6.

Bushee, who sits on the solid waste committee, said Monday her recollection of the debate over pay-as-you-throw was if Sullivan’s couldn’t collect, the city would. She wasn’t clear where the decision not to use the city department came from, but didn’t believe the city administration had the authority to make it without consulting the council.

“It’s not a final decision,” Bushee said. “I don’t believe that’s what the residents want or the council wants.”

In a Monday email to the council, Bushee said that using the public works department was “always a fall back plan” until the city could contract with someone else. The public works option would mean sometimes picking up recycling two weeks in a row, but it was better than pick-ups three weeks apart, Bushee said.

“How did this get decided without a city council discussion?” Bushee said. She assumed that the memo sent out last month was reiterating the fact that Sullivan’s would not change its contract, she said.

“I’m sick of reading about city decisions in the newspaper that I know nothing about,” Bushee said in the email. “I have been telling residents beginning in July we wouldn’t leave odd three weeks without a pickup. This is frustrating.”

In an email to the council sent Monday afternoon, Roy said he received no complaints from the council after sending out the memo on June 26. For the process to have worked smoothly, Sullivan’s would have had to change its schedule to collect recycling June 29-July 3, which it couldn’t do. The city decided not to collect because Sullivan’s was going to pick up the week after, and “we felt it would cause more confusion than benefit,” Roy said. If the city collected on the odd week, people might think that the next recycling collection date would be the week of July 13-17, when Sullivan’s isn’t scheduled to collect.

The same scenario would repeat itself three more times in the next 12 months: Aug. 31-Sept. 4, Nov. 30-Dec. 4 and Feb. 29-Mar. 4, Roy said.

“When we indicated at the public hearing that the city would pick up for those three months when there is a third week, we were assuming that Sullivan would change their schedule to accommodate a start with the week of June 29,” Roy said. “With this approach the city would have been picking up on those odd weeks and we would not have any back-to-back weeks,” he said.

But councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said she didn’t understand what the problem was with back-to-back recycling weeks.

Rancourt-Thomas, a member of the solid waste committee, said it is “quite upsetting” to see material build up over a period of three weeks, and collecting on the odd weeks should be a “common courtesy” from the city.

She also shared Bushee’s surprise at seeing the news report by the Morning Sentinel before it was discussed by the council.

“I really wish it would have come back to the council before it came to the paper,” Rancourt-Thomas said.

The issue has upset a lot of people, Rancourt-Thomas added, something that could have been avoided if the council had discussed it in open session.

“We don’t want a lot of people up in arms for something that could have been rectified in a public meeting or forum,” she said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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