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Suspension of yard/bulk waste pickup discussed at Westminster meeting, no changes planned

At the second Westminster Mayor and Common Council meeting held remotely since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, discussion turned to the suspension of bulk trash and yard waste pickup services, which has been unpopular among some residents.

The measure was taken in the midst of scheduling changes the city put in place to split shifts of staff working in-person in critical public works departments, like street maintenance and utility maintenence. Two shifts are rotating between seven days on followed by seven days of administrative leave in the hopes that if there is an outbreak in which staff are sickened or quarantined, it will not take out both shifts at once.

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This means the Street Maintenance Department is operating with half staff at any given time, and of the services provided, staff determined if something had to give, it would be bulk trash and yard waste pickup.

There is no change to the normal household trash pickup.

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Councilwoman Ann Thomas Gilbert expressed frustration at the Tuesday, April 14 meeting that the city is paying workers for 80-hour work weeks and citizens were getting about 40 hours of services.

She asked whether staff could work longer days during the week they are on shift. If bulk trash and yard waste pickup are suspended through May, she warned it would become a safety issue and said she had already seen and photographed areas around the city where it was being left to pile up.

“Services taxpayers are paying for are not happening for them,” she said.

City Administrator Barbara Matthews said the council could direct staff to do that, but there would be less cost saving to the city because federal laws require them to calculate overtime on a weekly basis. The city would be paying the workers for overtime past the 40 hours worked during their active week, under the Fair Labor Standards Act. So far, there haven’t been any waivers to this requirement, she said.

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She said the city is tracking the time workers spend on administrative leave in hopes that it can be reimbursed under emergency funding.

Councilman Kevin Dayhoff suggested the city ask staff to develop an alternative schedule and that the city apply for reimbursement later if that requires paying overtime. He said he felt the pickup services were as “mission critical” as the other duties of the street department.

Early in the discussion, Mayor Joe Dominick asked Director of Public Works Jeff Glass to talk about other services of the Street Department that would be affected in a trade-off for yard clipping and bulk trash pickups.

Glass said that with recent rain they are already struggling to keep up with mowing parks and other city properties. They empty the city trashcans in the street, which would start overflowing within two days without service. They also respond to emergencies such as clearing roads from storm damage.

“If it doesn’t fit neatly in someone else’s lane, it becomes a function of the streets department,” Glass said. He gave the example of some of the prep and planning for turning the Westminster armory into a shelter for the homeless needing to quarantine before the site plans changed.

Dominick later weighed in that the staff was split in half to ensure continuity because, “if the entire street department gets sick and they all have to care for themselves or be quarantined ... every one of those services stops.”

He said the city was enacting measures now “that will make things a little uncomfortable so it doesn’t get worse in the future. ... I don’t think we have a list of really great options here.”

Dominick also said the city should be constantly reevaluating as things change, and if bulk trash starts to become a safety issue, they can take action to address it.

Councilman Benjamin Yingling said that as chair of the Public Works Committee, the safety of employees is top priority and that the city is part of a response to a national emergency where they have to have plans in place for the worst-case scenario.

“We’ve been told by the experts that we rely on to run our city that this is what needs to be done. My position is that we need to listen to them,” he said.

Dayhoff said he thought there was council consensus to ask city staff to return with some alternatives for schedules that would reintroduce yard waste and bulk trash pickup. He said the street department staff are hardworking and creative and “we aren’t giving them enough credit” to be able to figure something out.

Dominick asked that, in that case, staff also report on any increase in risk or disruption to other services so the council would have all information. Yingling said he thought drafting alternative schedules and making a report was a bad use of staff’s time while already understaffed.

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