Residents of Aberdeen voiced comments and concerns Thursday about potential changes to the city’s trash pickup meant to keep the service from becoming unsustainable.
Kyle Torster, the city’s director of public works, said fact finding on the potential changes was complete and the public works staff wanted to get feedback from residents before ferrying their recommendation to the city council at its work session Sept. 21.
No decision has been made on the subject, and ultimately, the decision falls to the city council. The goal is to have a plan of action for the start of the next fiscal year in July 2021.
The room was filled to capacity at 1 p.m. for the first session — over 50 homeowners attended — and Torster asked them to fill out a poll outlining several options for the direction they would like to see the trash service take.
When the issue was first brought up in May, the department of public works recommended homeowners become responsible for their own refuse collection, hiring private haulers, but other options included expanding the thin-spread trash collection service were also under consideration. Torster projected a private agreement to cost around $30 a month for residents, but the city council directed him to explore other options and possibilities.
Superintendent for maintenance Fred Monath, who manages waste pickup, described the situation for the crowd. Trucks are out of date, and though the city owns four, they are often in need of repair. Generally, only two are on the streets at once. One of those four is over 10 years old. The number of stops has increased over the years as well, increasing wear and tear on the trucks, and guaranteeing that workers have to dip into overtime to get the job done. Often, the workers have to let trash sit in the trucks overnight because of the volume and the long drive to the landfill 45 minutes to an hour away.
The level of staffing and number of trucks has stayed roughly the same since the city began collecting trash around 2004. With more stops, and more trash, the biggest saving grace has been the staff, who take pride in what they do, Monath said.
“I have a really good team and part of us having a really good team is why we have been able to succeed with next to nothing so far,” he said.
Apartments and businesses in the city do not receive its trash service, City Manager Randy Robertson said, though the costs of it are factored into their leases and expenses. They are required to secure their own waste removal service.
“They’re subsidizing our trash services," Robertson said.
The service is becoming unsustainable, Torster explained, and something would need to give if it were to continue — either a fundamental change to who picks up trash in the city, or a modification of its services, which could come with higher taxes if decided by the city council.
“We are not broken today, but we are near to breaking in every way,” Torster said. “It is becoming difficult to manage.”
Residents who spoke said they were highly satisfied with the quality of their trash pickup, and several were resistant to the idea of outsourcing the trash service.
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Resident Robert Bartholomew said he was fine with expanding the number of trucks, workers and, potentially, facilities — even if it comes with a tax increase. Were residents required to purchase their own services, he saw potential for some tipping their garbage in others' cans or taking refuse to businesses and even schools to dump it.
“You are gonna get people throwing their trash away again — going to McDonalds, throwing their trash away," he said. “I don’t want to pay taxes, none of us do, but we understand taxes pay for things.”
That mirrored a problem Torster mentioned of the old sticker system, where residents were required to put stickers on their bags of trash. Some would steal stickers, others would not use the correct number of them. Plenty would argue with public works employees about their trash not being picked up — an undesirable outcome, Torster said, because of garbage’s tendency to attract rodents and animals.
Josh Quesenbery, who works at DPW, described the sticker system, and its following arguments, as an “everyday battle for our staff” with irate residents.
“We are trying to make it as fair as possible,” he said.
Resident Dea Galloway said she was happy with the service, and OK with it becoming private if the quality stayed the same, though she did not want any of the city’s workers to lose their jobs. She cautioned city officials against residential growth if it would put further stress on the trash service, noting past development.
“Aberdeen has grown so much; you need to consider that when you approve those [home] permits,” she said,