READING, Pa. - With the introduction of a proposed ordinance Monday night, the Reading City Council took a first step to move toward a single citywide trash hauler.
Although the council introduced a proposed requirement for all properties with four residential units or less to participate in municipal trash services, it stopped short of debating the issue or voting on advertising the proposed ordinance.
Council President Jeffrey Waltman suggested that the topic should not be rushed.
"There has been a lot of public noise about this, and I would ask the administration to wait until our meeting next week to explain why this is being moved forward and how it will solve problems," Waltman said.
Mayor Eddie Moran introduced the idea last month as a means of addressing quality of life issues in the city, which currently contracts with Republic Waste Services, but it gives residents the option of hiring their own private trash hauler.
About 80% of city households participate in the service.
During the committee-of-the-whole meeting, held prior to the regular council meeting, Kevin Lugo, solid waste manager for Reading, explained why the issue needs to be addressed quickly.
"We are currently drafting a request for proposals [for trash haulers], as our current contract expires at the end of this year," Lugo said. "In order to put out our best RFP, we want to know the scope of the work.
"The sooner this gets on the agenda, the sooner we will know what the RFP should look like and it will give us the most amount of time to find the best contract for the city."
Councilwoman Donna Reed said it is imperative for the council to discuss both the good and the bad aspects of a single trash hauler.
"It's like a Groundhog Day thing, as we've been through this so many times," Reed said. "In the past, the matter was put out to referendum. I would hope we have the political courage to make this call ourselves and not put this to referendum."
During the regular meeting's public comment period, the council heard from three residents and two private trash haulers who oppose the proposed change.
Resident Chad Zerbe questioned how the city would maintain price controls from a single hauler.
"Without competition, what will prevent price increases over time," Zerbe asked. "Based on the current economic situation because of COVID-19, I would ask you to keep the private haulers. As a small-business owner, I know what it would be to lose a contract overnight. I want to see a cleaner city, but want it done in a balanced way."
Beth and Keith Kemp from Kemp Sanitation, and Cindy and Cleon Kemp from Cleon Kemp Sanitation, both raised issues that the bidding process would be unfair to small, private haulers.
In another matter, the council voted to approve a resolution to temporarily lift all outdoor dining restrictions to allow sidewalk cafes anywhere in the city.
Current zoning only permits outdoor cafes in the city's commercial core zoning district.
The temporary relief, which will be in effect through Dec. 31, allows restaurants to provide outdoor seating to patrons amid the indoor dining restrictions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Several council members praised the move and called for council to consider lifting the restrictions permanently.
"I look forward to making this a more permanent thing," Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz said. "I love how we are progressing as a city and making it trendier."
Also Monday, Moran praised city residents for participating in peaceful marches and vigils in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A police officer faces murder charges in Floyd's death.
"I thank everyone who has spoken out," Moran said. "I have extended sincere condolences to the family of George Floyd. We will find justice in a peaceful manner."
Reed said the mayor deserves much of the credit.
"I think more than any time I've seen, this city has come together in a way that we can be really proud of," Reed said. "The mayor has done a stunning job in the time of COVID and in this time of social unrest. You have made Reading an exemplary place."