The Aberdeen City Council directed staff on Monday to see how much it would cost to outsource trash collection in the city, as it continues to explore all options for the future of its beleaguered garbage service.
No decision has been made on the subject; the council’s goal is to have a plan of action for the beginning of the next fiscal year in July 2021.
Director of Public Works Kyle Torster told Aberdeen leaders in May that the city-run trash service would need to change if it were to remain viable, a call he reiterated at Monday’s work session. He said the city would have to entertain costly expansion of its current capabilities, a reduction in services or a private contract with a waste-removal company to handle the increasing volume of residents' trash.
City officials wondering Monday if the city could negotiate a lower rate for individual households if it were to handle the private contract, rather than asking individuals to hire a private hauler for trash removal. An individual contract would cost about $30 a month per household, Torster said.
Two companies in the area, Bartenfelder Sanitation Services and GFL’s Waste Industries, would likely bid on a contract with the city, Torster said.
Additionally, a contract with a private company would not necessarily mean the city’s trash collection workers lose their jobs. Torster said a contract would likely require a city liaison with the company, which one of the workers could fill. Other workers could also be shuffled around the public works department as needed.
Residents surveyed during a Sept. 10 listening session were overwhelmingly positive about the city’s trash service, and its workers.
“As the public works director, I am trying to make the best decision for the city’s operations,” Torster said.
Though the council directed Torster to ask companies what a deal with the city could look like, they are still considering all options. Councilman Adam Hiob said he “not completely sold yet on outsourcing” the trash services, and said that new development could help offset the cost of expanding the current service.
Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck, after hearing Torster’s presentation, said that many of her concerns about contracting out the service were assuaged. If the city can keep its workers — and do the job for cheaper, potentially — this is the time to change as the existing service begins to strain.
“If we are going to go to outsource, this is really the ideal time to do it,” she said. "We are at that point where we do not have the assets.”
Aberdeen is near its trash service’s limit; waste collection in the city used to take crews six to seven hours with time for preventative maintenance on city trash trucks. Now, city workers routinely collect overtime just to get trash to the landfill — a 40-minute drive, on a good day, Torster said, and up to a further 45 minutes waiting in a queue for the dumping site.
Sometimes, they have to leave trash in trucks overnight to dump the next morning, a potentially dangerous solution, as the waste can catch fire when left to sit, he said.
Removing trash has become an expensive proposition as the city has grown. It currently has nearly 4,600 stops to service, which it breaks up into four zones, collected on certain days of the week. The city has five trucks to handle those zones, but because of the load on them and the stop and start nature of the job, they often break and need to be serviced for major repairs at a licensed dealership in Baltimore, Torster said.
Yard waste collection and bulk-trash pickup also complicate the issue. They can be hard on equipment and harder on workers who have to load them into the truck. Another option for keeping trash services in the city’s domain was eliminating or curtailing one or both as the city grows.
“We are going to hit 5,200 stops. Then what?” Torster told the council.
Keeping the trash service in-house would require two more trucks, Torster said, and growing the public works staff from 36 to 54 people. Mechanics would have to be hired to keep up with maintenance on the trucks.
Beyond the personnel costs, the city would likely have to expand its facilities to match the increase in staff and trucks. Currently, routine maintenance of the vehicles is handled at the city’s shop, along with police cars, which makes for an issue in getting all the vehicles serviced at the current facility, superintendent for maintenance Fred Monath said.
“We are already limited with our size," he said. “We are going to have to grow significantly if we are going to make it work in-house."
At a Sept. 10 listening session, Torster said that expansion of existing services could come with tax increases, which would be determined by the city council.
At that listening session, city residents took a poll on directions the trash service could go. Over 70% of respondents said they would prefer to keep the service in-house. A majority also said they would not want to see a reduction in services.
Apartments and businesses in the city do not receive its trash service, though the costs of it are factored into their leases and expenses. They are required to secure their own waste removal service, though they, effectively, subsidize the city’s collection efforts without seeing any benefit.