Toter-brand containers, one for recycling and one for trash, will be distributed to city residents to be used as part of the city of Aberdeen’s new flat fee trash collection program that will replace the “pay-as-you-throw” sticker program.
Toter-brand containers, one for recycling and one for trash, will be distributed to city residents to be used as part of the city of Aberdeen’s new flat fee trash collection program that will replace the “pay-as-you-throw” sticker program. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The City of Aberdeen plans to do away with its sticker program next spring and begin charging a flat fee to dispose of residents’ trash, city officials have decided.

The new fee structure is not without its critics, however, and city officials say it hasn’t been set in stone.

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Aberdeen Public Works Director Kyle Torster provided the city council members with a history of trash collection in Aberdeen as well as several options for how to implement the new program during the council’s last meeting on Nov. 13.

The city has 4,500 residential trash customers, with a staff of seven people making about 1,100 stops a day, four days a week to pick it all up.

“The sticker program isn’t working,” Torster told the council, and it wasn’t the first time he’s made such pronouncements.

The program is based on how much trash residents throw out. In June 2016, residents began paying $1 for each yellow sticker that goes on each trash bag and container holding up to 42 pounds of trash. They had been paying 50 cents per container or bag up to 20 gallons or 21 pounds, but eliminated that because the Pay-as-You-Throw program was not generating enough revenue to keep up with what the city pays in tipping fees.

The goal was to increase recycling, which for 24 years has consistently been 25 to 28 percent in Aberdeen, Torster said.

A small number of city residents don’t comply with the sticker program, but the city doesn’t have the staff to enforce it, he said.

The staff could leave the trash, which would be OK in the winter when it’s 30 degrees, but when it’s 90 in the summer, it creates a problem, Torster said.

To double back and pick up the trash creates an operational issue — the trash trucks get six miles to the gallon and going back is wasting fuel, he said.

“So we pick up the trash,” he said.

The city lost about $34,000 last year in trash collection, down from a $50,000 to $60,000 loss the year before.

The reasons to move to the flat fee, container trash pickup is not only for financial reasons, but for staff safety as well.

The city is charged extra at the disposal site when recycling goes into the trash, Torster said, so his staff often has to sort through and pick out what could be recycled. Sometimes the bags are stuffed so full they break, and other times they contain sharp objects that can poke or jab the person picking it up, he said.

Torster also looked at how to make trash collection better for the staff, who, “rain or shine, are out there every single day.”

In this fiscal year, the city’s three trash trucks that do not have a toter lifter — a mechanical arm used to empty the trash cans — will be retrofitted with them. One of the city’s trucks was done last fiscal year. By February or March, all residents will have two new containers, a green one for trash and a blue one for recycling. The city has ordered about 9,000 containers costing approximately $400,000.

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Each container should be able to accommodate most residents’ trash, which averages about 31 pounds per week per customer, Torster said.

He proposed three ways to pay for the new program, which is projected to cost at least $250,000 a year, including absorbing the tipping fee into the general fund without an additional costs to residents.

“It would become another city service underwritten by the city tax dollars,” City Manager Randy Robertson said this week.

The city’s general fund is in a “relatively healthy position,” Robertson said, and in preparing the budget for the next fiscal year has been directed by the council to preserve the tax rate or decrease it, but not increase it.

The second and third options would be to establish a partial enterprise fund and a full enterprise fund. Under the partial fund, designed to offset the tipping fee, residents would pay $15 a quarter, or $60 a year for trash service. In the full service fund, unsubsidized by the general fund, residents would pay $18 a month or $216 a year.

Robertson said the “path of least resistance” would be to simply absorb the cost into the general fund. But if the city begins spending on a service it didn’t before, the possibility of a tax rate reduction is less likely, Robertson said.

“It’s what does the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” he said.

What it comes down to is, “Do you want the fees to come out of your property taxes? Or do you want them to be borne by the garbage producer?” Mayor Patrick McGrady asked.

Bob Hartman, of the 200 block of Paradise Road, told the council during the public comment portion of the meeting that his household doesn’t generate nearly the amount of trash as others, certainly not $216 worth a year.

“I think it’s absurd,” he said. “We had a 100 percent increase last year when stickers went from 50 cents to $1 and now we’re going to this ridiculous amount. I’m tired of paying taxes and not getting anything.”

Councilman Tim Lindecamp said he’s concerned about a flat fee. He lives in his house with his 90-year-old mother, his wife and a teenage son who brings other teenage boys home.

“We generate a lot of trash, probably a lot more than Mr. Hartman,” Lindecamp said, “yet we’re paying essentially the same fee.”

Torster and Robinson said they could look at a way to pro-rate the fees to residents are paying based on the number of people living in a house or some other method.

Residents who produce more trash would pay more, Torster said.

The city also would pick up bulk trash for each customer three times in a year, but after that residents would be charged $15 each time.

“We don’t want to be the de facto bulk pickup service,” he said.

The discussion at the Nov. 13 meeting was the first in a series of discussions about the new trash program, and Robertson said he hopes residents will get involved in those talks.

“Ideally this we’ll increase safety and efficiency in our staff. Our trash guys are great guys and gals. We’re going to make sure we respect that they have an important job to do,” Torster said. “By going to the toter containers, we’ll be able to be more efficient for our residents.”

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