The Aberdeen City Council is considering the future of its trash pickup services — mainly if it makes sense for the city to handle at all.
On May 26, Director of Public Works Kyle Torster laid out options to address issues of aging trucks, long hours for workers and high costs for its trash service. Torster recommended leaving the city out of it and asking residences to arrange their own private trash pick up through waste management firms, which he estimated would cost approximately $30 a month for residents.
The trash service, Councilman Jason Kolligs said, was viewed favorably by the city residents he spoke with, but Torster said the city needs to agree on a plan to manage trash in the future, as its current trajectory is not sustainable. The city is examining its options; no decision has been made.
The issue with the service begins with its trucks, Torster explained. The city has four trucks — though it received another one in May — of varying ages. The oldest is 11 years, Torster told the council. Their ages, and the two hours spent driving to the landfill every day, mean that repairs are frequent and expensive.
"When I come in, we do not know if the truck is going to make it that day or not,” said John Campbell, the foreman of Aberdeen’s Environmental Group, which oversees trash collection in the city.
According to a report Torster provided, trucks have to be sent to dealerships or licensed facilities for most repairs because of proprietary software laws. Beyond that, the vehicles suffer heavy wear and tear from hauling trash out of the city. Trucks’ engines and transmissions get worn down from stopping and starting all day. Heavy loads weaken important seals, hoses and casings. The hydraulics systems are complicated and are, often, the first to fail.
The average yearly maintenance cost for the trash service is approximately $43,500, according to data Torster supplied. Predicting fluctuations in maintenance costs, Torster said, is also difficult.
From 1992 to 2019, the city generated significantly more trash, according to figures Torster showed the council. The city has handled its own trash collection since at least 2000, McGrady said.
In 1992, trucks picked up 2,197 tons of trash annually, but that number had grown to 3,682 tons per year by 2019. Recycling collected during that time more than tripled from 262 tons a year in 1992 to 1,095 tons annually in 2019. Those figures correspond to an increased number of total households, from 3,520 in 1992 to 4,538 in 2019. Costs for using the landfill have also increased over the years. Currently, it costs $72 per ton to use.
Through those yearly changes, the city’s waste management staff has barely increased between 2004 and 2019. Data was not provided for 1992. Today, the service employs six staffers and a working supervisor. Six people are required to man the trucks on a day-to-day basis, and trash pickups occur Monday through Thursday with bulk pickups on Fridays.
Mayor Patrick McGrady said that only single or two-family homes receive trash pickup; businesses and apartment complexes have to make their own arrangements. The trash service does not pay for itself, and money has to be shifted to cover its costs, meaning it is possible tax revenue from businesses and apartments are subsidizing trash pickup for select homes.
"As it stands … the current situation is the trash collection is not being paid for by the people who are benefiting from the service directly,” McGrady said.
Torster prepared several options for the council’s consideration, including the city staying its course on trash pickup. To continue the service, more people would need to be hired, and more trucks would have to be purchased. The city’s workers handling trash pickup are “overwhelmed,” Campbell said. According to Torster’s report, retaining employees is a struggle, as is paying their daily overtime.
Alternatively, the city could contract with a company to handle its waste collection, which Kolligs was against because such a move would give the city “all of the responsibility and none of the authority.” The city previously contracted with an outside company for trash services, McGrady said, where it ran into an accountability problem, but he thought a contract could be drawn up to guarantee adequate services.
Councilman Tim Lindecamp and Kolligs agreed that, if the city were to stop providing trash pickup, they would have to collect less in taxes.
“There have to be some sort of taxes back,” Kolligs said. "You cannot cut service and not give something back. That is ludicrous.”
The issue has not been resolved, McGrady said, and the council will need more information before it directs the department of public works to focus on a solution.
Latest Harford County
"We are in a situation where we you are going to be paying a lot more in your taxes or we are going to have to find another way to do it,” he explained.