Summit County Council indicates it likely won’t get into the garbage collection business
When it works, as it does for most people most of the time, garbage collection is the sort of basic, essential governmental function that’s easy to ignore.
But when it breaks down, and trash builds up in a person’s garage for two weeks, residents can see how important the service really is.
Summit County is looking at whether it could provide better service than residents currently receive by starting a trash collection service itself. On Wednesday night, the issue was given some clarity when councilors saw numbers and estimates about what the change would entail.
Though the council took no official action, it appeared the elected officials viewed it as too costly to bring waste collection in-house. Instead, councilors indicated support for soliciting “out-of-the-box” ideas when it comes time to choose the next service provider that could help the county progress toward its sustainability goals.
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The county pays Republic Services about $3 million annually under a contract that runs through June 2022. That number rises with the Consumer Price Index, and is anticipated to jump to $3.3 million next year.
The council heard a presentation from Public Works Director Derrick Radke and Tim Loveday, the county’s solid waste superintendent, and were told a Summit County-operated waste collection service would cost more than $4 million annually, with those costs expected to grow.
Officials have wondered whether bringing the program in-house would provide better service and allow more control to expand offerings, especially with an eye to sustainability. They have anticipated making a decision on the matter as one of the largest tasks before them in the first half of 2020. It’s a decision that will likely need to be made by April, councilors were told, and is part of a larger conversation about how to deal with solid waste going forward.
Loveday outlined the projected costs for the program, which include significant upfront spending to buy garbage trucks, hiring administrative staff for payroll and billing, insuring workers and hiring trash collectors.
It’s the last item that Radke said had him most concerned.
“That’s the single scariest piece of the whole thing. I think everything else I think we can do,” Radke said of hiring the 25 or so trash collectors required to cover the county. “Given today’s economic environment, getting staff is difficult.”
He said he’s tried for years to hire a half-dozen or so part-time, seasonal snowplow operators. In three years, Radke said he’s gotten one application. Republic Services is able to draw staff and equipment from neighboring service areas if an employee is sick or a snowstorm threatens collections, a capacity it seems the county would struggle to provide.
Loveday added that the danger of the job would likely increase insurance costs and that the wages are higher than those paid to snowplow drivers or landfill operators, which could have a ripple effect in reducing morale among other Public Works employees.
Two people who offered public comment advocated for the county to reshape the cost model and make it much more expensive to dispose of waste and cheaper or free to recycle.
The county instituted a solid waste fee in 2016, in part to pay for a new and more environmentally friendly cell in the Three Mile Landfill, which opened last year. That’s now $3.33 per month, assessed to every person who owns land with a dwelling on it. Councilor Roger Armstrong wondered whether it should be increased to around $10 per month, which a consultant’s report said is lower than in other communities.
Other ideas that have been floated include constructing a waste-to-energy facility built with regional partners, improved composting efforts and building transfer or recycling sorting facilities in the county.
There are significant hurdles to each, including cost and untested technology. Councilor Glenn Wright speaks often on these issues, especially a waste-to-energy facility, and seemed to back the notion of issuing a broader request for proposals that could build flexibility into a future waste management contract. He said he’s reviewed proposals that promise to save the county $1 million or more annually, but limited data to back up the claims. Loveday said he’s requested detailed reports from firms interested in offering novel solutions, but so far, specifics have been lacking.
County staff indicated they would synthesize the council’s input and create a final recommendation in April.
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