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Springfield, MO

Poll: Don’t change up Springfield trash collection

An independent survey reports satisfaction with open market and costs

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As the city of Springfield potentially rewrites the residential trash collection system, a recent poll suggests only a slim portion of Springfieldians actually desire change – even with the promise of cheaper curbside services.

Kansas City-based Remington Research Group LLC completed the poll. It was conducted via phone Jan. 17-18 and surveyed 1,065 residents, of which 74 percent reported being satisfied with the current open-market system for residential trash collection.

Just 19 percent of those polled said they support the city making changes to the system that currently allows them to pick their own trash hauler, with 60 percent of respondents saying they’re comfortable with the current cost of trash hauling.

City officials earlier this month announced a new public education and input initiative they say aims to teach residents how the current trash collection system works and to gather input on whether to adopt a new coordinated trash collection system.

The initiative is part of a suite of measures proposed to secure stable funding for the city’s voter-approved solid waste management system, as so-called “put-or-pay” trash disposal contracts with the two largest local trash haulers are set to expire in April 2019.

Requiring specific tonnages of waste dropped at the city landfill, the put-or-pay contracts rest between the city and local operations of national haulers WCA Waste Corp. and Republic Services Inc.

The companies provide the lion’s share of funding for city waste management operations via the contracts, said Cora Scott, the city’s director of public information and civic engagement.

Scott said disposal fees paid by the other nine trash haulers currently licensed provide supplemental funding for the waste management system, which includes city recycling services, yardwaste composting and household-chemical collection.

Under a coordinated trash collection proposal, which would not affect commercial waste services, Scott said the city could be divided into geographic residential zones, with more zones potentially created than the 11 current trash haulers.

She said the zones could be opened to competitive bidding by individual trash haulers, with winning bids for each zone awarded to single haulers limited to collecting residential trash in that zone. Trash haulers under the current open-market system are free to operate on a citywide basis.

“We are nowhere near settling on what (coordinated trash collection) exactly would look like,” Scott said of the zoning. “Right now, council is in the phase where we’re just talking about the concept in general, of these geographic zones, and whether or not citizens are interested in it.”

If citizens are uninterested, Scott said the zoning proposal wouldn’t be pursued.

“Whatever coordinated system that we would design would be created in a way to make sure that haulers would be able to maintain their current market share,” she added.

Springfield Business Journal calls and media inquiries to Houston-based WCA Waste were not answered by press time.

Officials at publicly traded Republic Services (NYSE: RSG), which merged in 2008 with Allied Waste Industries Inc., declined an interview but offered an email statement reflecting its position on zoned trash collection.

Phoenix-based Senior Manager of Public Affairs Brad Kiesling wrote that Republic Services has provided trash collection for Springfield residents and businesses for over 30 years, eventually growing to employ more than 100 local residents.

Kiesling said the company “recently invested $15 million in local infrastructure upgrades, and each year, we spend millions on public utilities and services.”

He indicated Republic Services favored the current open-market system.

“One of the main reasons we have experienced such growth, and are able to give back, is because of the free-market system that exists in Springfield,” Kiesling said. “The free-market, or open-market, system allows us to compete against other service providers in order to earn more business. Simply, the customers who believe we offer the best service and solutions at a fair price choose Republic.”

He said cities that have implemented a coordinated zoning system, such as Los Angeles, ultimately increased the cost of residential trash collection and eliminated competition.

“We will always be committed to our customers and the city of Springfield,” Kiesling said. “As the city considers a change, we will continue to urge decision makers to keep the free-market system in place.”

Combined, from 2014 to 2016, Republic Services/Allied Waste and WCA Waste – which city documents indicate own the only other two landfills within 100 miles of Springfield – collected about 81 percent of trash received at the city landfill, according to a roughly $109,000 city-commissioned report by Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell Consulting PC.

During the same time, 11 smaller trash haulers, such as J&J Refuse LLC, respectively collected anywhere from less than 1 percent to no more than 10 percent of the total waste tonnage received at the city landfill, according to the report.

At his small, trash-littered facility on North Eldon Avenue, J&J Refuse owner Jose Valdez said he knew nothing of the city’s education and input initiative and little of the city’s efforts to potentially adopt zoned trash collection. Valdez declined to comment further.

As for residential customers, the Burns & McDonnell report outlined that Springfield residents pay $10-$16 or more for their curbside services.

Citing the report, Scott said 90 percent of U.S. cities have adopted coordinated collection. During a Jan. 9 special City Council meeting, she said Springfield residents often pay more than twice as much for trash collection than residents in neighboring cities, such as Nixa, Ozark, Battlefield, Strafford and Willard.

Likening the system to school bus routes, she said during the special session that coordinated trash collection could produce a fixed, city-issued bill for curbside refuse and recyclable pickup.

Zoned trash collection, Scott said, also could streamline the collection process for local haulers, among other benefits such as reduced traffic congestion, bundled trash and recycling services, increased public safety and improved air quality.

The education and input initiative also includes meetings with local trash haulers, as well as community meetings with residents in each of the four zones of the city. Dates for those meetings have not yet been set, Scott said.

Scott said the city did not fund the Remington survey, but the results have made it to her desk.

“No one seems to know who commissioned the survey,” she said.

SBJ’s inquiry about survey funding via email to Remington Research Group’s Titus Bond were not answered by press time.

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