Missoula’s Purchase of EKO Compost Could Lead to Job Cuts and Lawsuits, says Current Plant Manager
On Monday, November 14, the city of Missoula purchased EKO compost and is expected to take over management on Thursday. Phil Oakenshield is the current plant manager at EKO and he says the city may be walking into a lot of unexpected expenses.
"The concept is good, but you're going to be competing against private people, which can open you up to lawsuits... and I don't know if the city has looked at that or not," said Oakenshield. "If I'm a private composter and say you're a city composter and we're bidding on the same job and you win, well, I'm taking you to court, because I'm having to use my personal money to run my plant while your using taxpayer money and not paying taxes."
Oakenshield says the city will be eliminating the bagging process at EKO, which he says brings in between 50 and 60 percent of the business. That, combined with planned upgrades at the plant, may make it difficult for the city to make a profit with its new private enterprise.
"There's been a few people that come out here, but nobody's really come out here to ask what it is we do and how we do it. When you're using taxpayer money, do you really need to make a profit? I'm sure the city would like to make a profit, but if I fall short and I have the taxpayer to fall back on and I need a new piece of equipment, say, well... I'll just get it from the taxpayer."
Oakenshield is apparently out of a job with the advent of the city's purchase and says the city will not retain him or about nine other employees that currently work at EKO. According to Oakenshield, most of the jobs that have been cut are in the sales department or bagging process.
Missoula city councilman Harlan Wells says the city issued over $3 million in bonds for theEKO Compost.
"$1.25 million is the purchase price, the rest is some equipment purchases that needed to be modernized, site improvements; mainly for storm water runoff and how things are laid out... and the a couple hundred thousand of that is actually a debt reserve that the bonding companies require of us."
Wells says he voted for the EKO Compost purchase partly because it wasn’t “a hostile takeover like Mountain Water.” Now, he says the city will be fully responsible for the notorious smells emitted by the composting plant and the wastewater treatment system. The city takes over management on Thursday.