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Archive for Friday, January 22, 2010

Auditors suggest more automation, examining a different rate structure to narrow solid waste budget deficit

Solid waste division workers Travis Lindquist, left, and Derrick Jackson empty containers into the back of a trash truck as they make their rounds Thursday on Thorn Tree Court in west Lawrence. Recommendations are being made by the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board to charge residents based on the amount of trash they throw away.

Solid waste division workers Travis Lindquist, left, and Derrick Jackson empty containers into the back of a trash truck as they make their rounds Thursday on Thorn Tree Court in west Lawrence. Recommendations are being made by the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board to charge residents based on the amount of trash they throw away.

January 22, 2010

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Audit recommends charging for trash

An city audit has brought up the suggestion of using more automated trash trucks in an effort to save money. An idea has also been proposed that would call for residents to be charged based on how much trash they threw away. Enlarge video

More automated trucks, more sophisticated rates and more oversight of how long city trash crews are required to work all should be considered to help reduce a $500,000 shortfall in the city’s solid waste division.

City Auditor Michael Eglinski on Friday released the results of his performance audit on the city’s trash collection operations, and said mounting deficits in the division should cause city leaders to study options for the service.

“It serves everybody in the community and it is an important service,” said Eglinski. “The financial condition it is in is troubling. We can’t continually sustain deficits.”

The city trash service has been operating at a financial loss since 2005, and the loss hit a high of $513,618 in 2008.

Among the major findings of the audit are:

• City management should study whether more automated trash trucks could reduce the overall cost to operate the systems. The automation systems available range from trucks that have mechanical arms that reach out to the curb to grab trash containers to trucks that use hydraulic lifts that eliminate the need for as much physical labor from crews. The city’s current trucks are equipped with such lifts, but the city does not require residents to use the special poly carts that can be placed on the lifts.

• A study should be conducted on whether the city would benefit by changing its rate system so that people are charged more based on the amount of trash that they throw away.

• Managers should do more to monitor an incentive system that allows trash crews to work less than an eight-hour day but still receive pay for eight hours, if they complete their routes early and to their supervisors’ satisfaction.

Eglinski said the city’s system for tracking how many hours are forgiven under that system is lacking. Trash crew employees are required to clock in and out, but managers traditionally have not created regular reports detailing how large of a gap there is between hours worked and hours paid.

Eglinski examined time cards for 1,757 workdays to estimate that sanitation crews are working about 6 hours per day. The audit, however, did not recommend the city eliminate the program. Eglinski said there are other municipal trash services that use a similar incentive, but he said city managers should have more data about the program to better evaluate it.

Eglinski said the solid waste division also needs to review its practice for handling overtime. The division pays workers overtime anytime they work more than 8 hours in a day, even if they do not work more than 40 hours in a week. That is more than federal law requires, and Eglinski said the division should have a formal written policy explaining the overtime benefit.

City Manager David Corliss said he agrees with the audit’s major findings, and said he plans to undertake a study of automation and rate issues. He also said the city is working to update the citywide system employees use to record their hours, which will make it easier to manage.

But Corliss said he does think the division’s incentive system allowing workers to leave early, has benefits for the city. He said the incentive is reasonable given the pay and working conditions of trash crews. Solid waste loaders make, on average, $36,800 per year, while solid waste operators have average salaries between $47,000 to $53,000.

“If we didn’t have the incentive, it may not be difficult to hire people, but it would be tough to retain them,” Corliss said. “People may think they can do the job, and then they start doing it and talk becomes cheap after about the third street.”

City commissioners are expected to review the audit at their Feb. 2 meeting.

Comments

gccs14r 4 years, 11 months ago

I don't want to deal with a 96-gallon cart with only 8 gallons of trash in it. Neither does my 80+-year-old neighbor who uses a cane. If the City decides to require the use of leased poly carts so they can use 1-man automated trucks (gnerally a good idea), there needs to be a small cart option for people who generate only small amounts of trash per week.

The City should also look at reducing the frequency of yard waste pickup to every second, third, or fourth week. If people knew they'd have to sit on their bagged grass clippings for a month, maybe they'd be less inclined to bag their grass.

gccs14r 4 years, 11 months ago

That arrangement is usually to prevent abuse of the workers. What's to keep an employer from working you 16 hours one day and making you take off the next, if you don't get OT over 8? BTDT, didn't like it much.

conservative 4 years, 11 months ago

I agree with gccs14r that the big carts are too big. I don't have room for something that big in my garage and don't really want a cart out front year round. I disagree with cutting back on recycling pickup though. I don't bag my grass but do collect recycling from my gardens. The paper bags we are required to use wouldn't hold up to having the weeds, trimmings, etc decomposing in them for that long.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

So called "free enterprise" is bogus. Once they are in,the city is out the rates will be at the discretion of the bogus free enterprise.

College towns are known quantities for lovely inflated rates that free enterprise would love to charge.

Ever notice so many things are more expensive in college towns.

IN some cities/towns pay as you throw pays for itself thus tax relief.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Frankly I would rather the city operate the service thus providing work for citizens.

It seems too many enterprises are looking for ways to put people out of work instead of keeping people on the jobs thus supporting a local economy.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Pay the city or pay somebody.

Free enterprise is anything but free. Notice the medical insurance industry .... nothing free about that enterprise. $18,310 a year for 2010.

Why pay someone to haul Lawrence dollars out of town?

cowboy 4 years, 11 months ago

I stated weeks ago that this audit would be a joke and it has met those expectations. There is no breakdown of operation cost vs revenue generation. What is the operational costs of each major function versus revenue generated on residential , commercial , yard waste. Any beginning industrial engineer could break these out and form a solid estimate of where we're in good shape and where we're not. We're paying this auditor 87,000 per year to generate this crap.

Two things jump out , the lack of anyone in administration controlling hours / time clock . an incentive to finish a route is fine , I suppose , but you don't compound the incentive with overtime payments.

Recycling is being chased to meet a number for a report without caring about the cost. If you want to charge for something charge for yard pickups or ditch them completely. Have a once per month pickup.

What is the Friday Incentive ? More incentive on top of the incentive you already earned , is not the first incentive enough ?

This is a p!ss poor excuse of an operational audit . It is not thorough enough to make any operational change recommendations as it does , in suggesting new capital expenditures to make the job more efficient.

It is obvious that the labor management is out of control , the revenue vs cost is unknown. You cannot make decisions on half baked information. It is further evident that the management expertise in the city staff , to allow these procedures / policies , and to allow the loss of over 1 million per year , is so sub par that they should be replaced. I remind you that these folks are knocking down some serious salaries and this level of incompetence should not be overlooked. Coreless , the buck stops at your desk. If you can't manage a simple budget and find the weak spots what are you spending your time on.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago

"So…there are folks out there that think contracting Diffenbaugh, or another contractor, would make trash collection cheaper?"

Costs to the city would remain almost identical, workers would get paid less with worse benefits, service would be worse, while Deffenbaugh would profit handsomely.

But this would accomplish the main goal of those proposing it-- treating workers badly while making sure that the wealthy owners of the private company get even wealthier.

Does that make sense? No, but the ideology of privatization has very little to do with what's sensible.

Seth Hanes 4 years, 11 months ago

The city should get Waste Management to come in and take over the trash pickup. They also do recycling pickup and take the amount of recycling material that you put in a different trash can off your bill. Basically paying you to recycle.

Steve Miller 4 years, 11 months ago

HOw can the leaders of this city be chirpping about shortfalls when they issued heavy bonuses to the working population? Answer me that .....

Steve Miller 4 years, 11 months ago

macheath, it is not going to be cheaper any way you cut it. deff or any other carrier . will charge to make a profit. as it is the city is gifting your trash pickup. the city will : start charging you for that special trash can, they need to discontinue picking up grass clippings, this is not a necessity, take it to the dump yourself. this all calculates into everyone wanting something free, it aint that way anymore. the squeeze is now hitting bottom, we all lost our good jobs several years ago and now it i s hitting street level.. suck it up and figure it out.. haul it yourself if you can do it cheapper.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Yard waste pick up becomes a useful product for the park department landscaping needs as compost and mulch. I doubt seriously the city could buy for less than almost free donations.

Deffenbaugh is now owned by some corporation in Belgium....it's best to keep as many of Lawrence dollars in local Lawrence banks or credit unions as possible.

Deffenbaugh and Waste Management are not in the business of saving taxpayers money. I doubt either pay taxes.

cowboy 4 years, 11 months ago

It should be noted that the big losses began in 2006. What else happened in 2006 ? Corliss administration . These losses have grown each year since.

Chris Ogle 4 years, 11 months ago

Corliss said “People may think they can do the job, and then they start doing it and talk becomes cheap after about the third street.”

Wonder how he figured that one out ???

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago

"Defenbaugh use 2 people to a truck to dump trash. HoneyCreek uses one. These are “Bogus”, “Free Market” enterprises."

If they were to get contracts in Lawrence for trash pickup, and used similar sized crews, they'd have to be collecting trash 24/7 just to keep up.

How much would Lawrence have to pay these companies? (I know Honeycreek charges considerably more than Lawrence does for rollaway dumpsters.) And what do these crews get paid, barry? What are the benefits? (although I know you'd be OK with it if we could just gets some slaves to deal with it.)

cowboy 4 years, 11 months ago

One can make a fair assumption that the same issues are prevalent in the entire city operation. The annual "we can't cut anything" budget mantra is now a very hollow cry. It is all about accountability. The city cannot continue to roll out rate and tax increases while it does not perform it's fiduciary duty to manage the taxpayers dollars efficiently. fire the auditor and hire about four first year industrial engineers and turn em loose. I gaurantee you they would have a major impact on the financial performance of the city. You would not even need them if we had competent city staff and managers , which we don't.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago

I guess you're OK with simplistic sloganeering, barry, but not so good with substantive answers.

50YearResident 4 years, 11 months ago

The City could contract the service out and then everyone will be paying $16.50 per month plus your water bill fee. Does that sound like a good deal?

redmoonrising 4 years, 11 months ago

Guess I resent most paying the fee for solid waste removal each month that applies to residences with trash recepticles at the curb when I am already paying my landlord, as part of my rent, for the removal of solid waste from the dumpsters that reside about a block from my apartment.

alpineriver 4 years, 11 months ago

How about some sort of payment scale based on the AMOUNT OF TRASH a household generates? I see mounds and mounds of trash every week on cubs all over the city. We generate approximately 3 grocery bags (the small ones with handles) of trash per week for a family of four. Recycling makes it all possible, and it really doesn't take long at all. I'm not sure how to make a "pay by amount" work, but I think it's an option that deserves consideration. After all, the less trash we generate, the less the city has to haul away.

And how about some type of incentive for recycling?

justtired 4 years, 11 months ago

Rumor has it that $$ from the santitation budget is used to help other departments

gccs14r 4 years, 11 months ago

PAYT is easy to figure out. Automation in the truck (GPS coordinates, scale built into the lifting arm) makes billing easy. Weigh the container on the way up, and weigh it again on the way down. The difference is the weight of what you tossed. Charge accordingly. If that's not enough detail, add a volume sensor to the dump bin and base the charge on both the mass and the volume of what's tossed. Add in a camera and take a snapshot of the contents in the dump bin, so if a dangerous substance ends up in the waste stream, they know where it came from. That would also let the driver know if he's about to compact a body or something and he can stop and call the cops.

Tony Kisner 4 years, 11 months ago

2008 Waste Management 10-K

Revenues - $13 Bil. Income Taxes .6 Bil. Net (after taxes) Income 1.0 Bil.

Seems like 2008 was a tough year in the refuge business.

pace 4 years, 11 months ago

Corlis repeating Yoo's saying, that he can't change any practices because he would lose he work force, just isn't true Corlis" “If we didn’t have the incentive, it may not be difficult to hire people, but it would be tough to retain them,” Corliss said. “People may think they can do the job, and then they start doing it and talk becomes cheap after about the third street.”

the current practice has built in overtime, the resistance to change, all too old boy. Yoo's refused to listen to commercial haulers suggestions. He designed programs to reward special people to receive overtime as part of their regular pay every week. The numbers haven't added up for years. He was never practical nor a good manager.

Kash_Encarri 4 years, 3 months ago

This story isn't dead yet. Deffenbaugh is making a proposal to take over the trash pick-up in the city. No need to seperate your recyling from your trash, they'll do it for you.

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