Atlantic City Mayor, Don Guardian, holds a press conference at Atlantic City City Hall after Governor Chris Christie speaks about him in Atlantic City. April 6, 2016. (The Press of Atlantic City/ Viviana Pernot)

Viviana Pernot

ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Don Guardian has said repeatedly in press conferences and interviews that the city is saving $400,000 a year by doing its own trash and recycling pickup, rather than having the Atlantic County Utilities Authority do it.

But numbers provided by his representatives this week didn’t back up that claim.

On Monday, the city provided data purporting to show big savings, but it excluded some key costs and estimated others.

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When questioned by The Press of Atlantic City on the exact figures, a new set of numbers emerged Tuesday, pegging the annual cost of doing trash and recycling pickup with 25 workers at $1.95 million. That’s about the same as the $2 million the ACUA would charge to do both with a staff of 16.

And still the city’s figures did not include the cost of replacement trucks or truck and liability insurance, all big-ticket items included in the ACUA quote.

“What you have gotten is a work in progress,” ACUA President Rick Dovey said Tuesday, after hearing that the city’s Monday numbers had changed dramatically. “It’s not what should give anybody confidence that the city has completely and accurately cost accounted this service in-house.”

Dovey, who said he was pulled into the controversy by Guardian saying the ACUA was much more expensive than the city effort, called the failure to factor in capital costs for purchasing trucks “like not factoring into the family budget the cost of a car payment or mortgage.”

The self-insured city has $10 million budgeted for liability insurance in 2015, but Guardian’s chief of staff, Chris Filiciello, could not say how much of that is for the truck and recycling fleet.

Switch in 2015

The city has been criticized by Gov. Chris Christie and others for not pursuing more cost savings through shared services and privatization.

When the city brought the recycling back in-house in early 2015 after 26 years of using the ACUA, it spent about $185,000 on a new truck and hoped to replace its fleet of 10 aging trucks with one new truck a year from anticipated savings, said Public Works Director Paul Jerkins. That spending was not included in his estimate of the city’s costs.

In an email Thursday, Filiciello wrote that the city had paid the ACUA $532,000 in 2014 to do recycling, so when it took the job back it saved that cost since it didn’t add any staff to the sanitation department. He did not address Guardian’s comments or the overall cost comparison with the ACUA.

Jerkins said the 26 extra recycling pickups per year the city provides residents should also be considered.

“We do it every week. They did it every other,” Jerkins said of the ACUA, adding the city picks up from businesses even more often. “We have provided extra service to the community.”

Late Monday, Filiciello and Jerkins provided numbers that seemed to show about a $400,000 savings over the ACUA, but the savings relied on estimates for health benefits that turned out to be too low, didn’t include the city’s SSI contribution for workers or the cost of any of four sanitation supervisors, the two later acknowledged.

The initial report had the total cost of labor, worker’s compensation insurance, truck maintenance and gasoline at $1.67 million.

On Tuesday, they updated the numbers at The Press’ request, coming up with the $1.95 million total. They had added one of four supervisor’s salaries to the total trash and recycling budget.

That left 17 people in the street- and drain-cleaning portion of the department with wages and benefits of about $1 million per year. Three of them are supervisors.

Jerkins said those workers primarily clean the city’s 87 miles of streets with motor-broom equipment and Tenant vacuums; clear and clean 2,381 inlets by hand and 1,000 catch basins with Vactor trucks; maintain 200 vacant city lots; and clean up graffiti.

The city owns 10 trucks and uses eight — five for trash and three for recycling — with two held for use if a main truck breaks down, he said.

Each has a driver and two laborers on board, for a total of 24 workers on the road Monday through Friday.

Even though many workers get two weeks’ vacation, requiring a replacement covering at least 50 weeks per year for trash and recycling, Jerkins said no additional workers were counted as assigned there. The other 17 in sanitation fill in if someone is out sick, injured or on vacation, Jerkins said.

Moran report

A November 2015 report by former Galloway Township police Chief Patrick Moran, hired for six months at $30,000 as assistant public works director to find cost savings, concluded the city would save about $863,000 per year by contracting with the ACUA.

Moran’s report, which Filiciello and Jerkins provided after an Open Public Records Act request, was based on eliminating the salaries of 42 Sanitation Department workers, including four supervisors, when the department had a slightly higher head count.

“That is the spreadsheet I used. It accurately reflects the information I was provided and observed at that time,” Moran said of his report listing 42 workers in trash and recycling.

“He rode with the men in the trucks. He knew the operation was more than just trash,” said Jerkins. “I don’t think there was malice when he put the numbers together. But (if all 42 workers were lost) the ACUA would have to take over all facets of sanitation.”

Dovey said last week that the city balked at using the ACUA last fall only after it was clear that 35 city sanitation workers would not be hired by the authority for a period of at least six months. That would have added more than $800,000 to the cost, Dovey said. It also wasn’t possible for reasons involving unions, worker’s compensation and the Affordable Care Act, he said.

Retired ACUA Executive Vice President and Chief Finance Officer Maria Mento said she met in 2014 with then-city Business Administrator Arch Liston about the ACUA’s proposal to begin trash collection for just under $1.5 million a year, in addition to the recycling it was then doing for $532,000.

“Basically he said, ‘Wow, I haven’t looked at all the numbers yet, but I know you can save us at least $1 million,’” Mento said of Liston.

He told her it would also save a lot of administrative costs related to disciplinary actions the city had to handle with sanitation workers, Mento said.

Liston declined to comment.

The ACUA stopped picking up recycling in the city March 1, 2015, after City Council declined to extend the contract due to a 2 percent cost increase, from $532,000 in 2014 to $543,000, in 2015.

The city has stopped paying tipping fees to the ACUA and now owes about $230,000, plus about $140,000 in other unpaid bills, Dovey said. Officials have not addressed the billing, even as they have attacked ACUA pricing, Dovey said.

“There has been no animosity between the ACUA and the city in the past,” Dovey said. “In the last two to three months, as pressure and problems have swirled around them, for some reason we’re the enemy. I don’t get it.”

Contact: 609-272-7219

Twitter @MichelleBPost

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