Mayor: Sloppy bookkeeping no excuse

Linden takes local school district to court over $240,000 of unpaid garbage collection bills

UCL-linden seal-CLINDEN – After years of waiting for the school board to pay their garbage bill, the city decided they had to go to court in order to get the $240,000 in back bills.

Mayor Rich Gerbounka is the first to admit he has always had an excellent relationship with school officials. However, when it comes to money owed to the city that is an entirely different issue.

Although there were media reports last week that might have led citizens to believe the lawsuit was recently filed, that is not the case at all, according to Gerbounka. The mayor said he and council decided to file the lawsuit back in 2011, right around the time they cut off service to the school district for not paying their garbage bill since 2006.

“We had a contract with the school district to pick up their garbage for $60,000 a year,” he explained, noting the annual contract automatically renewed unless the city or school district notified the other in writing that they were ending the agreement.

The mayor said he has a copy of the interlocal-agreement the board of education not only signed but also approved at a board meeting March 15, 2006.

“We have the minutes of that meeting and it is clear our agreement was for an automatic renewal each year unless either party gave a 90-day notice,” the mayor explained.

“Look, we tried to negotiate with them in order to come to a common ground but we didn’t get very far,” Gerbounka said, admitting the city never sent a bill for the years 2006 through 2010.

“Like I said, I do plead guilty to sloppy bookkeeping but that is no excuse for the school board to not pay their bills,” he added.
“We kept picking up their garbage from 2006 until 2011 when we realized they hadn’t paid us in four years,” the mayor explained, admitting the oversight was merely “sloppy bookkeeping.”

So the mayor had a letter sent to the school board, notifying them they had not paid their garbage bill since 2006 and if they did not pay it, their service would be cut off. In return he received a letter from the school business administrator Kathy Gaylord, that maintained the city had “no claim of promise.”

“I was a little dumbfounded by that because our department of public works had been picking up their garbage faithfully and now they were saying we had no claim of promise,” the mayor said, mentioning that an automatically renewing contract is a claim of promise.

“Look, I plead guilty to sloppy bookkeeping, but the school district received a service from us since 2006 and we deserved to be paid for that service,” Gerbounka added, arguing that they would have complained if the city didn’t hold up their end of the contract.

In the end, he said, council decided they had no other choice but to file a complaint in court. As for the cost of this legal move, Gerbounka said it will not cost any additional taxpayer dollars.

“We have in-house attorney’s who are paid a salary to handle this kind of a lawsuit, so it’s not costing us anything more. Besides, this is money owed to us and $240,000 could help our budget,” the mayor said.

The school board eventually paid for the 2011 outstanding garbage bill, but that still left outstanding bills from the years 2006 through 2010, which amounted to $240,000.

“We intend to be made whole, no matter how long it takes,” Gerbounka added, explaining he has a “fiduciary responsibility to make sure we get paid what is owed to us.”