Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Auditor's Report: Trail Ridge Deal Creates More Cost; It Says $37 Million More of Taxpayers' Money Would Be Used in Settlement

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Auditor's Report: Trail Ridge Deal Creates More Cost; It Says $37 Million More of Taxpayers' Money Would Be Used in Settlement

Article excerpt

Byline: TIA MITCHELL

The settlement agreement between Jacksonville and Waste Management would cost taxpayers $37 million more than the proposal the City Council rejected last year, according to a just-released analysis by the Council Auditor's Office.

The settlement would allow Waste Management to continue operating Trail Ridge landfill for roughly 26 years, not including options to renew. The cost is estimated at $459 million, according to the auditor's report.

Last year, the council rejected Mayor John Peyton's proposed contract extension and directed city attorneys to pursue competitive bidding, a decision that led to a Waste Management lawsuit that is set for trial in December.

The court forced both sides into mediation, which resulted in the proposed settlement that was negotiated by city attorneys and the company.

The council must decide by the end of the month whether to accept it.

Council members have said they would be inclined to vote against settling the case unless the proposal would save significantly more money than what the mayor negotiated in 2008.

The council is scheduled to debate the merits of the settlement at a meeting Monday, where it will operate as a committee-as-a-whole.

Council President Richard Clark said even if the deal doesn't have the cost savings many were hoping for, it still must be fully vetted. He has asked Council Auditor Kirk Sherman and Chief Deputy General Counsel Cindy Laquidara to attend the meeting and answer questions.

Council Vice President Jack Webb, who had not had a chance to read the auditor's report, said the difference in the numbers was troublesome.

"That's not good news," he said. "Given that's the case, that's not a deal we would probably take, then."

If the council approves the settlement proposal, it would avoid the expense of taking the case to its December trial. That could cost the city about $750,000, on top of $450,000 already spent on an outside law firm.

The settlement would also put an end to the decades-long dispute between the city and Waste Management over whether the company has the right to operate the existing landfill or the entire Trail Ridge site. …

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