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Springfield, MO

Public to vet potential trash redo

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The city of Springfield took its first step toward launching a new outreach initiative questioning whether to scrap the current system of residential refuse collection.

During a Jan. 9 afternoon special City Council meeting, Springfield’s Director of Public Information and Civic Engagement Cora Scott outlined the initiative that will query residents during the next 90 days on adopting a “coordinated collection” of curbside trash and recyclables.

Council currently allows open-market trash collection, whereby residents have free rein in choosing among a dozen or more private trash haulers for curbside services.

Potentially governed by selective bidding, the proposed coordinated system would divide Springfield into unspecified zones within which the private trash haulers would be bound, Scott said. The proposed system provides one option for the city to avoid potentially scaling back or even eliminating certain public trash services.

Mayor Ken McClure curbed public comment on the proposal during the special session. Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky, however, was quick to later shoot down the initiative, which would not affect trash collection from businesses.

“I might be the minority on this, but I just want to say to the public, ‘From the beginning, I’ve been against this,’” Fulnecky said. “I think it’s a waste of time and money.”

Council on Jan. 16 will consider a resolution that directs city staff to formally launch the outreach initiative, which also seeks to educate the public on the current trash collection system.

The topic carries major implications for the city, its residents and trash haulers alike. Scott said the city’s main objective is to continue fully funding its integrated solid waste management system, which voters approved in 1991.

“If you walk away with one nugget out of here: The city has absolutely zero interest in taking over trash collection,” she said.

Also noting 90 percent of U.S. cities have some sort of coordinated system, Scott said benefits from adopting coordinated trash collection in Springfield would include creating a flat, city-issued fee for curbside service for residents and streamlining the collection process for local haulers.

Scott likened trash collection under a coordinated system to the organization of school bus routes. In addition to a flat fee and streamlined collection, she identified these potential benefits:

• reduced traffic congestion;

• increased services through bundling;

• increased public safety;

• lowered operating and fuel costs for haulers;

• reduced wear and tear on city streets; and

• improved air quality.

Scott said trash collection often costs Springfield residents more than those in neighboring cities, where residents pay on average about $12.50 per month.

She said the idea for adopting coordinated trash collection in Springfield first surfaced in 2000 as part of the city’s Vision 20/20 comprehensive master plan. Springfield residents pay $10-$16 a month for trash services, according to a survey conducted last year by Kansas City-based consultant Burns & McDonnell Consulting PC.

In 2016, council commissioned the report by Burns & McDonnell at a cost of about $109,000.
 
The report sussed out more effective trash collection options and increased city revenue streams.

Centered on coordinated collection, one option divided the city into three or four trash-collection zones, two of which with at least 20,000 customers, with the remaining zones being smaller.

The city would then contract with one hauler per zone through competitive bidding that would reward exclusive hauler franchises and create a franchise fee, according to the report.

Some local trash collectors who spoke to Springfield Business Journal last year have favored the current open-market system, the status quo that ultimately could be kept. But McClure advised against it.

“You can make an argument that the free market is not working,” he said, citing higher prices for trash and recycling collection in Springfield compared with other cities. “Something’s wrong with the system.”

Others, such as the local recycling outfit Post Disposal Service, also see coordinated collection in Springfield as a benefit. Company representative Craig Post, who attended the special council session, said bundling recycling services with trash collection under a less expensive flat-fee system could get more residents to recycle.

“Because it would be provided to each household, you’ll have more opportunity,” he said, acknowledging his business could get a leg up, considering the potential for competitive bidding, where edging out competition for a city contract comes down essentially to offering the lowest price. “I welcome the system.”

One major issue that should be addressed, Post added, is the city charging the lowest disposal fee in the state. Springfield might be missing out on critical funding, he said.

“Sometimes, the cheapest is not the best, especially when the landfill is the driver to support the whole integrated solid waste management system,” Post said.

The main driver of exploring new trash collection options, McClure said, is that disposal contracts with the two largest private trash haulers – WCA Waste Corp. and Republic Services Inc., which operate their own landfills – expire April 2019.

The contracts stabilize funding for the city’s integrated solid waste management system, Scott said. The two trash haulers are contracted to use the city landfill through “put-or-pay” agreements.

System funding primarily comes from disposal fees paid by private trash haulers. Springfield carries the lowest disposal fee in the state at $30.94 per ton of trash, Scott said.

She said if disposal-fee revenues declined, the city would have to scale back or eliminate such services as recycling, yard waste and household-chemical collection – or even face closing its public landfill.

The resolution up for review Jan. 16 also authorizes city staff to renegotiate the put-or-pay agreements, as well as issue a request for information from all locally licensed haulers.

The new initiative also lays out plans for trash hauler meetings, open houses in each of the city’s four zones, a presentation circuit, displays at trade show booths and an informative website.

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