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Aberdeen to hopefully decide direction of trash service by March; both propositions expensive

The Aberdeen City Council signaled that it could make a decision on the direction of its strained trash-collection service by the beginning of March.

The city has entertained the idea of contracting refuse collection out to a company and received bids for the future of the service at an earlier meeting in February.

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But whichever way the city decides to go, it will be an expensive undertaking. The two bids from GFL and MBG Enterprises to offer the same services the city provides were $1.28 million and $1.45 million per year, respectively — with room for about 2% to 3% annual growth.

Expanding the city’s own trash services would require new equipment, more personnel and new facilities that could cost more than $1.5 million annually by 2026, plus more immediate capital expenses.

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Trash services are expected to cost Aberdeen a little over $1 million in the current fiscal year, ending June 30.

“Either solution, it is going to be costly,” Superintendent of Maintenance Shop Division Fred Monath said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Expanding the city’s in-house trash service, director of public works Kyle Torster explained, would require the city to buy three trash trucks, another heavy-duty lift, construct a new concrete pad and pole barn, and hire four new people, one of whom must be a mechanic. That would give the city what it immediately needs for July 2021 to continue the service, but not what it will need up to 10 years down the road, he said.

If the city’s services were expanded, it would have to add another zone to its collection schedule. Currently, Aberdeen has four collection zones, which each have their trash picked up one day a week.

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The cost of expanding the trash service adds up to an estimated $2 million expense for the city in the coming fiscal year, according to the presentation, with a large portion of it going to one-time capital requests like new trucks. Estimated costs quickly flatten after FY22 but are still over $300,000 more costly than the current year’s price for trash collection.

Expanding the trash service over the next 10 years would also mean constructing a new 24,000 square-foot facility for the vehicles, Torster added. That facility is estimated to cost about $5 million.

The bids received do not account for costs borne by the city, like an employee who would serve as a liaison between Aberdeen and the contractor.

According to the presentation, the amount of trash the city collects has increased almost every year for the past six years. In 2014, the city collected 2,732 tons of trash; by 2020, the number was up to 3,899 tons. Recycling collection, too, increased over that same period from 911 tons in 2014 to 1,275 tons in 2020. The number of personnel and trucks have not increased proportionally to the amount of trash collected over the years.

Councilman Adam Hiob pointed to revenue from new developments and annexations as one avenue to fund expanding the trash service, but McGrady said those projects will have ongoing, longer-term costs that need to be considered like maintenance of water pipes, roadways, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

Mayor Patrick McGrady said he thinks it likely that the council will move toward contracting the trash service out to a company. He hopes the council can have a decision by its last meeting in February or the first one in March because, with budget season approaching, the decision is time-sensitive.

“We need to be in a position to give Mr. Torster a path forward sooner rather than later,” he said.

Aberdeen’s refuse collection service has been strained. The small waste management team has to deal with an increasing number of stops, long hours and expensive repairs to vehicles. The city also collects recycling, bulk trash and yard waste. Crews consistently have to work long hours, necessitating overtime, and manage breakdowns of aging trucks, officials have said.

If the city were to contract the refuse collection service out, city workers providing trash services could be shifted around the public works department, Torster said. McGrady said that would require the city council to budget money for those positions elsewhere in the department. At council meetings, city residents have consistently said they did not want the city’s refuse collection workers to lose their jobs.

“We want to be able to take care of our people,” Torster said.

Residents have been overwhelmingly satisfied with their trash service, Torster said. Over the summer, the city invited a group of about 70 residents to weigh in on the future of the trash service. About 71% of them were were in favor of keeping the trash service in-house but opposing tax increases, and around 23% said they were in favor of contracting the service out. Approximately 6% said they could do with either solution or failed to answer.

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