New Crawford Central refuse removal contract brings 70 percent increase

Apr. 29—VERNON TOWNSHIP — A five-year refuse removal contract approved last week by Crawford Central School District brings with it a 70 percent annual increase over the previous contract.

The board's work session and voting meeting this month featured no discussion of the massive cost hike, and board leaders contacted by The Meadville Tribune following the unanimous vote were unaware of the size of the surge. Even had they been aware, those leaders said, few alternatives were available to the board.

"The problem is that we put it out for bid and we got one," board Vice President Jeff Rose said Friday, "so there's not a lot that can be done."

Given the challenges of the past several years and the accompanying cost increases in many areas, Rose noted, it would be hard to imagine the cost of refuse removal services not increasing.

In fact, the board approved a variety of spending measures a week ago that reflected increasing prices for food services, security and other items, including at least one other contract that received only one bid.

Board President Kevin Merritt made a similar point when contacted Friday.

"It's just like food services," he said. "We send out bids and get one bid back."

While Crawford Central only received one bid for both food services and trash removal, the district's costs in the two areas are different in one important respect. Because the costs of student meals receive federal reimbursements, the district expects to see a profit of about $273,000 from food services, according to a presentation at the board's work session. No such reimbursements exist for trash removal services.

And none of the other increasing expenses approved by the board approached the 70 percent increase for garbage hauling.

The agreement approved with Tri-County Industries Inc. of Grove City runs from 2024 to 2029 at a cost of $276,420. The per-year average of $55,284 is up from the expiring two-year agreement with Tri-County, which averaged $32,580 per year.

The skyrocketing costs continue a trend that coincides with the number of companies submitting bids shrinking to one: The contract approved by the board two years ago came at an annual rate that was 44 percent higher than the preceding contract. The district sought bids from five companies at the time but received only a single bid from Tri-County.

In three previous calls for trash removal bids in 2016, 2018 and 2020, the district received at least two bids, district officials said in 2022.

Tri-County has hauled the district's trash since at least 2016. The average annual cost from 2016 to 2018 was $22,440. The average annual cost rose to $24,780 from 2018 to 2020 and then dropped to $22,560 from 2020 to 2022, according to previous Tribune reporting and district records, before the 44 percent jump when Tri-County was the only bidder in 2022.

When the new contract becomes effective with the 2024-2025 school year, the cost for the district's trash removal services will have risen 146 percent in seven years.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' online inflation calculator, costs have increased about 24 percent due to inflation from June 2018 to March 2024, the most recent month for which data was available.

The board has in the past re-bid some items when the bids received were not satisfactory, but doing so does not guarantee that other bidders will submit proposals the second time around — nor would a company that found itself as the only bidder the first time be required to submit a similar bid again.

The latest increases come as the board is confronting a projected budget deficit for next year of more than $4.3 million and a proposed tax increase of 5.5 percent.

Though the percentage increase is significant, the cost of trash removal ultimately won't impact the district's budget as much as numerous other expenses. The board has focused on larger-ticket items, according to Merritt.

"It wasn't like when Austin (Stofferahn, the district's business manager) told us about health care going up," Merritt said. "He warned us about health care."

In a budget presentation at the board's April work session, Stofferahn told board members that health care-related increases for next year would be "a lot worse than expected."

"Our health care costs are going up a staggering 17 percent this year," he said. As a result, district health care expenses are projected to rise approximately $1.1 million, from $6.7 million this year to $7.8 million for 2024-2025.

The trash removal increases, in contrast, will add $22,704 to next year's budget.

Calculating his own rural trash collection costs against the more intensive demands of the school district, Rose was understanding with regard to the increase.

"I wish it was a lot less, but comparing it, I guess, with the cost of fuel, the cost of wages, and just keeping people hired to work — it's been crazy for four years here," he said. "I think it's awful, but it is what it is."

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at