A friend of mine who works in the world of city government likes to say that citizens are a tough bunch to please. He points out that people want things to be made better in their community, they just don’t want you to have to change anything to do it. I know this point of view is certainly an oversimplification done in the spirit of keeping a sense of humor in an otherwise crazy world but it does hit on the dichotomy between preservation and progress. Change takes getting used to and most of us have a hard enough time keeping up with the changes imposed in our lives without the city government adding more. But that’s what we’re looking at doing with trash collection in the City and here’s why.
Looking at Managed Trash Services in Kent
Over the last 5 years the City has initiated a wide range of productivity improvements to help curtail the financial crunch that we’ve been facing. Those efforts have worked to the tune of about $1 million in workforce reductions and nearly $5 million in materials, supplies and contracts. $6 million is a lot of money but it’s not enough – which is why we’re still out there looking for more and that’s how we first got interested in looking at trash collection in Kent.
It turns out that nationally 2 out of 3 cities manage trash services in their community either through municipal collection or through some form of city contract with private haulers. As we look at Kent’s trash haul free-for-all it is part of a declining minority that leave it up to homeowners to fend for themselves and arrange their own trash collection and disposal services. As a basic utility like electric, water, sewer, and even recycling, trash collection is the only one that has the distinction of not being managed in Kent.
As we’ve researched the issue it’s become apparent that by not having some form of management of trash in Kent, our residents are paying a premium for the exact same service that residents in our neighboring cities are paying less for. On top of the extra money being taken out of our pockets, we also have to deal with trash being set out for collection by trash trucks that increase congestion, disrupt our neighborhoods, and wear down our streets 5 days of the week rather than once a week as in those other cities.
Armed with this information we thought we owed it to Kent residents to take a closer look at what we could do as a city to save money and improve our neighborhoods by initiating some form of management oversight for trash collection. The staff and City Council do not take changing trash service lightly but after 2 years of study and looking at prospective savings of over $250,000 a year for Kent residents, we thought the time was right to take another step forward.
In October 2008 City Council authorized the staff to put a citywide (residential only) trash bid out on the street to see what sort of numbers we get back. It’s great to estimate savings but we need to see it in writing before we’d consider making any recommendations to City Council to change anything. The bid should be advertised before the end of 2008 and then the staff would bring the bid responses back to City Council for discussion in early 2009.
The terms of the bid are specifically broad in order to allow residents the opportunity to maintain the same type of service they currently receive hopefully just at a more beneficial rate. In the trash collection business density of customers is the key to profitability and a citywide bid dramatically improves customer density. So much so in fact, in every example we found the private hauler passed a significant savings back to the customers as part of the bid. As an example on a smaller scale, a Kent homeowner association reported saving 25% by pooling together to bid their neighborhood trash service last year.
Certainly there’s no guarantees of saving money until the bids are submitted but Aurora and Hiram recently converted from the trash haul free-for-all to a managed system and they saved their residents between 25% and 35% on their monthly bills. At a time when every penny counts we felt an obligation to see what we could save on our resident’s behalf as well.
To make sure we were heading in the right direction we looked at cities that have a reputation for being great places to live in northeast Ohio to see how they managed trash. Of those, here’s a sampling of the cities that manage trash services in their communities: Aurora, Mentor, Hudson, Twinsburg, Shaker Heights, Euclid, and Medina. Plus, since we’re a large university city (which adds extra stress on trash issues) we looked at how the other university cities in Ohio managed trash. It turns out that all of the other state university cities, except Kent, took a direct role in managing the trash flow in their cities.
By moving forward with a franchise type of bid for each of the 4 quadrants of the City, we fully expect to see meaningful savings for trash customers in Kent. Fewer trucks on our streets mean less wear and tear on streets and curbs, better safety, less noise and truck traffic in neighborhoods which also means less potential for property damage or accidents, and even less emissions that we breathe in at our homes which means a healthier and smaller carbon footprint for Kent.
On the negative side, some folks have expressed concerns over losing their right to choose their own trash hauler. Under the citywide scenario people would indeed lose that choice. Obviously that’s a decision we’d have to make but it’s not unlike the decision we made to have one recycling provider or one water provider. Freedom of choice is a great thing but sometimes there are costs to be paid for choice and as a community we decided long ago that for some areas, like Police and Fire, we were willing to concede our right to choose to ensure a safer, better community. Do we all want to hire our own police security, or handle the fire at our own house, probably not.
It appears that in general, most people agree with the concept of “public” services, where we pool our funds to have the best equipment and people we can afford for these services rather than have each person hire there own fireman and policeman. What we’re trying to figure out now is whether it makes sense to add trashman to that list as well.
At this point all City Council has authorized is the next phase of analysis for determining the feasibility of implementing a managed trash service in Kent. There are many logistical issues that Council would have to consider before taking a vote to actually make any change. However, because it is something new City Council thought it was important to have this information get out to the public.
We’ve added a link (see Managed Trash Service in the navigation column in the upper right) to keep as much information as we can on the topic available to the community:
We’ll keep you posted of the progress of this new initiative.
We’ll keep you posted of the progress of this new initiative.