Commercial contract grows by 200 percent By JoAnn Baker and Terry McGahan WEST MILFORD It was a contract with a loophole big enough to drive a garbage truck through, and that's exactly what happened. By the end of this year that contract will cost the taxpayers approximately $400,000 in unplanned expenses. The trail of responsibility starts in the first half of 2003. The then-council agreed that the municipality would provide garbage removal for businesses in the community. Very few municipalities provide this service to commercial properties. In fact, in 10 of 12 surrounding towns, businesses must contract with a hauler themselves. Ringwood, the only true exception, provides for one 2-yard container once a week, but Greenwood Lake considers businesses that generate less than four 30-gallon cans as residential, so they do provide some commercial pick-up. But in the first half of 2003, the council gave in to repeated requests by businesses and set the wheels in motion. Gaeta Recycling of Patterson was awarded the contract, based on a bid of $201,602.40 for two years of service. But the bid had a little addendum on the bottom that read: *NOTE: Total contract bid amount for contract award comparison price only. Actual payment to successful bidder shall be based on actual number of customers and type of service as certified by the Township DPW. Payment for customers added to the initially verified service list will begin the first of each month following Township verification of those customers' eligibility and service. This little note has allowed the original $201,602.40 to leap to an estimated $600,000 by the end of this year. The contract's ultimate cost comes at a time when the current council has labored greatly over their 2005 budget. The $400,000 difference would meet the exact entire cost of replacing 80 breathing apparatuses that the town's fire chiefs requested this year. The entire $600,000 could pay the first-year salaries of 15 new police officers or pave three miles of road. So, what happened? The council's bid specs were for 120 businesses. According to Town Clerk Kevin Byrnes, that number was the lowest of several surveys that had been done. Gaetna quickly collected more commercial customers. There are currently 395 local companies that now have their garbage picked up at the expense of the taxpayers. While the contractor may be accused of exploiting an opportunity for their own benefit, it is the previous council that, on the face of it, carries the blame for this expensive approval. Phil Weisbecker, who was the mayor on the council that signed the contract, and who will run again for council office this November, says differently. Weisbecker recalls that the issue of commercial garbage pickup had been a long-running request to the council from the Chamber of Commerce and, in particular, from its then-chairman, Ed Casey, for as many as 24 years. The contract approval came at the 11th hour, right before the change in government came into effect on Jan. 1, 2004. It was so close that by the time the town got the contract back from Gaeta and the mayor signed it, Weisbecker had been replaced by Joseph DiDonato Weisbecker also said, "We on the council at that time felt we could design a bid and contract which would control the garbage pickup. We were clear that the council would be the only agent who could add businesses to the contract." Andy Gargano, also a member of the council that signed the contract, and also running for a council seat in November, was in complete agreement. Gargano said, "We were trying to keep businesses in town and this was a token on our part. It was an experiment, and I believe the current council ensured the experiment failed. They [the council] are remiss in their obligation to ensure this contract was controlled." Weisbecker's concurred with Gargano's belief, "The contractor wasn't supposed to be able to go out and canvass for businesses. The council and administrator were supposed to control this. They allowed the tail to wag the dog." The contract will expire on December 31 of this year, at which point it will not be renewed. When asked how that contract got past a lawyer, Byrnes said "I don't think an attorney ever reviewed it."