After more than two decades of service from the same company, the city of South Haven has decided to contract with a different garbage service.

The decision was made in an effort to include curbside garbage and recycling pickup for residents.

South Haven City Council members voted this past Monday to sign a five-year contract with Kalamazoo-based Best Way Disposal, which also has an office in Watervliet.

The new pact, which begins in December, would end a long-term relationship the city has had with Republic Service of Jension. In the 1990s, the city signed a long-term contract with Reliable Disposal of South Haven to provide residential waste hauling services. The contract was renewed again in 2006 for another 15 years and remained valid when Reliable was bought by Republic.

“It’s been 15 years since the city went out to bid for solid waste and recycling service,” said Assistant City Manager Griffin Graham. “Two proposals were accepted, one by Republic and the second by Best Way. An internal committee evaluated proposals and conducted interviews and unanimously identified Best Way as providing the best value. They provide disposal support out of Watervliet and other offices throughout the Midwest...They already provide service to commercial businesses in South Haven and they have a history of knowing the area.”

There will be several changes with Best Way that will affect South Haven city residents. Currently, customers place their garbage, recyclables or yard waste to the curb each Monday for pickup. Under the new contract, refuse and recyclables will be picked up either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday depending on which part of the city residents reside.

Residential units will each be provided with one 96-gallon trash, recycling and yard waste cart. Additional material placed by each cart will be collected once per month. If the resident has additional material more often, an additional cart can be rented for a fee.

As part of the contract, Best Way will work with the city to communicate the services they will be offering to residents in the city of South Haven, according to Graham.

“Best Way and city will work closely to communicate with residents, including introduction letters and other communication methods to make sure people know that changes that are coming,” he said. “Best Way has gone through transitions like this before.”

Like a number of other cities, residential solid waste and recycling services in the City of South Haven are funded by a voter-approved tax levy of 1.4 mills.

For the 2021-22 fiscal year budget, which began in July, the city expects to generate $552,130 in revenue from the residential garbage and refuse tax levy and anticipates expenditures of $525,122, for a balance of $27,008 to increase the overall fund balance in the garbage and refuse fund to $228,119.

The tax will not increase with the new contract, however, the new garbage service agreement comes with higher rates, which concerned Council member Joe Reeser.

“I’ve had experience with Best Way...they constantly increase their prices,” he claimed.

With the new contract, a standard cart per household will cost $15.80 per week for the first year. By year five, the cost will go up to $18.48 per week.

City staff members acknowledged rates will go up, but responded that both Republic and Best Way proposed five-year contracts with rates higher than what the city negotiated 15 years ago for trash removal service. At that time, the rates negotiated through the contract with Reliable/Republic increased annually based on cost-of-living increases.

“We’re seeing a very different waste and recycling world,” City Manager Kate Hosier said. “When you have a contract not revisited in 15 years, you will see a jump in rates.”

Of the proposals brought forth from both Republic and Best Way for the new 5-year pact, Best Way’s rates are higher than Republic’s proposed rate, but city staff defended the committee’s decision to go with the higher bidder.

Staff members stated that over the past two years, city residents have complained about the level of service being provided by Republic and the fact that the company no longer uses its local office on Aylworth Avenue in South Haven to provide customer service.

“The problems we’re having have been going on for two years,” Hosier said. “We’re trying to get the best customer service we can.”

Graham agreed. “Best Way will base their customer service and operations out of Watervliet,” he said. “They know the area and the roads. Communicating with Best Way, they’re relatively local. We found additional value in that.”

But Graham also acknowledged that in the future, the city will most likely have to increase the millage rate for garbage service.

”The City of South Haven is authorized to levy a maximum of just over 2 mills for garbage/recycling service. For the past several years, including the 2021 tax year, the City has levied only 1.4 mills,” he said. “This equates to a taxpayer paying approximately $280 per year on a home with a taxable value of $200,000/market value of $400,000.

”All proposals submitted during this most recent process included notable rate increases compared to the existing contract which originated back in 2006. This is consistent with industry-wide trends. In short, I do expect that the tax levy used to pay for this service will need to be increased during the life of this new contract but the exact amount or exact timing of this increase is not able to be determined at this time.”