Archive for Sunday, March 27, 2011

Commission candidates voice opinions on city’s trash services

March 27, 2011


Every day may soon be trash day at Lawrence City Hall.

When voters go to the polls on April 5, they’ll be choosing the set of city commissioners that will consider the most sweeping set of changes to the city’s trash service in decades.

City commissioners began taking a hard look at the city’s trash service in 2009 after the division posted a $513,000 loss the year before. The losses have slowed — in fact, in 2010 the division took in about $160,000 more in revenue than it spent — but commissioners aren’t convinced that’s sustainable.

Concerns are mounting that many of the city’s trash trucks soon will need to be replaced at a price of more than $300,000 each. And the city’s favorable landfill contract — it had held tipping fees steady since 1993 — has expired and been replaced with a contract that guarantees tipping fee increases on an annual basis.

A host of ideas are being studied for the trash system. They include privatizing the service, meaning the city no longer would operate the system but rather would contract with a private company. That idea has set off alarm bells among the division’s approximately 100 employees.

Other ideas have included increased automation of trash trucks, perhaps reducing the number of employees needed for each truck. But automation also could require residents to use specialized trash carts instead of standard bags and cans.

The standardized carts also could open the door to a “volume-based” pricing system that has been advocated by environmentalists who believe it is unfair that people who recycle large amounts of their trash pay the same monthly fee as those who do not.

Here’s what the five candidates running for three spots on the City Commission have to say about the trash issue and other service-related issues at City Hall.

Sven Alstrom

Alstrom, a Lawrence architect, has taken the hardest line against privatizing the city’s trash service.

He said turning the service over to a private company would create too many questions about the cost and quality of the service in the future.

Alstrom also is the most reluctant of the candidates to endorse the idea of the city starting a curbside recycling program. He likes the current system run by private operators.

“I don’t want to expand it into a city service,” Alstrom said. “We have enough things to manage right now.”

He said he is open to the idea of making the trash system more automated, and changing the pricing system to one that takes into account how much trash a person sets out.

On other issues, Alstrom:

• Likes the idea of building a West Lawrence recreation center. He said he supports the idea of taking the money that the city had been spending to pay off the Indoor Aquatic Center — which is now paid for — and using it to fund a bond for a new recreation center.

• Would like to look for other sources of revenue to maintain city streets so that an infrastructure sales tax approved in 2008 could eventually be repealed.

• When asked whether he could envision any projects that would require voters to approve a tax increase, said he would like the city to discuss buying the Alvamar golf complex that is up for sale. He said he thought the city could buy the property for a reasonable price and use it to help improve its image as a retirement destination.

Hugh Carter

Carter, a Lawrence financial adviser, said he is skeptical that privatizing the city’s trash service would make sense, but said he was willing to review it.

“But I feel pretty strongly that it would be a tough one for me to swallow,” Carter said.

Carter, though, believes the city is behind the times on its curbside recycling services, especially considering that Lawrence wants to have a reputation as an environmentally friendly community. Carter said that he would consider adding curbside recycling to city services, but has concerns about hurting the private companies providing the service.

“I think if we could offer it as part of the city’s service, the rate of recycling in this town would just go through the roof,” Carter said.

Carter also said he was open to reviewing a change in the city’s pricing system for trash to give people a greater incentive to recycle.

On other issues, Carter:

• Understands the need but is uncertain that now is the right time financially to move forward with a new West Lawrence recreation center. He said he would want to study whether there are other core services in greater need of funding before committing to move forward on a recreation center.

• Believes the city’s transit service will continue to be perceived as a high-cost-per-rider system until the city gets serious about allowing developments that feature more density and transit-oriented designs.

• Said voters may need to be asked to approve funding for more police department resources. In particular, he said a new department headquarters that would allow the force to no longer be split between two locations needs to be studied.

Mike Dever

Dever — an owner of a Lawrence-based environmental consulting firm, and the lone incumbent in the race — said he believes it is important to ask tough questions about the city’s trash service, but said he doesn’t necessarily believe the service must be privatized.

“What I really want is a plan for the service,” Dever said.

He said he wants to look at buying trucks that would allow for more automation and that would allow crews to pick up trash and curbside recycling all in one trip. He also said he wants to look at changing the city’s pricing system for trash service because he’s not sure the flat rate is fair to everybody.

On other issues, Dever:

• Believes any new West Lawrence recreation center will need to be part of a public-private partnership. Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self’s foundation has expressed interest in funding a wellness center in the community.

• Said voters could be asked to approve an economic development fund that would give the community more flexibility in offering incentives and making improvements to bring new companies and jobs to the city.

• Is more open to the idea of creating a rental registration program for older apartments than he previously has been, but said he still has concerns about the city’s ability to enforce existing regulations.

Mike Machell

Machell, a human resources director for an Overland Park company, said it is “fiscally responsible” to at least review privatization of the trash service. But he said he has concerns about losing control over the service quality and pricing.

“Plus, I’m concerned about what happens to the city workers,” Machell said. “How we treat city employees in this instance will have implications about how the rest of our employees deal with us.”

Machell said he wants to keep all options open regarding curbside recycling, increased automation and new pricing systems.

“This is nearly an $11 million department and we have to get it right,” Machell said.

On other issues, Machell:

• Said he is interested in using freed-up sales tax dollars, combined with private donations, to build a West Lawrence recreation center.

• Believes the city may need to look at funding a new police services building at some point to consolidate the police department.

• Is not in favor of adding a rental registration program for older apartments. He said the complaint-based system is adequate, and that he would rather spend additional money on adding police officers to address other neighborhood concerns.

Bob Schumm

Schumm — a downtown restaurant owner and former Lawrence mayor — said he doubts that city residents would support privatizing the city’s trash service.

“As I’m going door-to-door, it seems people are very happy with the service,” Schumm said. “I think they are reluctant to even suggest a change.”

Schumm also said he is hesitant to consider a city-operated curbside recycling program, but wouldn’t entirely rule it out.

“I’m just very reluctant to take away somebody’s job and business,” Schumm said of the potential impact a city program would have on private operators.

Schumm said he is open to studying greater automation of the system. But if it required reducing city staff, he would want to do so through attrition rather than layoffs.

On other issues, Schumm:

• Said he doesn’t believe the city’s budget would allow the city to move forward on a new West Lawrence recreation center during the next one to two years.

• Said he can think of no projects or service enhancements that he would propose that would require voters to support a property or sales tax increase. “Not a single thing,” he said.

• Believes the city has made significant improvements to its transit system following the 2008 sales tax vote. He said the city needs to position itself to take advantage of what could be a dramatic increase in ridership due to higher gasoline prices.


Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Sven Alstrom:

I am opposed to new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts in Lawrence.

I would require notices of additional sales taxes to be posted at all existing TIF districts, Community Improvement Districts (CID’s) or Transportation Development Districts (TDD’s).

However, I would discourage these districts where they would place an additional sales tax burden on grocery shoppers.

Bob Schumm: You may not know how much you pay in taxes when you go shopping.

All because the current City Commission has approved and is considering more special sales tax districts. Community Improvement Districts(CID).

If passed some businesses would be allowed to collect a special sales tax of up to an additional 2% for the next 22 years that do NOT find their way into OUR local cookie jars. In fact they go back to the property owners. This is called a tax dollar subsidy.

Bob Schumm opposes sneaky taxpayer subsidies.

Thus far Lawrence citizens have not been able to convince current city commissioners to at least pass an ordinance that signs must be placed to notify consumers of such an additional sales tax. This city commission has voted for such districts I say rather quietly. Do consumers approve of this additional sales tax? Consumers have not been able to vote on this sales tax increase. Why not?

The other three candidates do support most all tax subsidies and I know the other three feel the CID's are acceptable. Sales tax increases should be approved by voters.

Bob Schumm and Sven Alstrom do have credible positions on these issues.

Katara 7 years ago

Nice paraphrasing of Bob Schumm's recent campaign postcard.

I recently received a postcard in the mail campaigning for him. To quote it, "You may not know how much you pay in taxes when you go to the grocery store, eat dinner at a restaurant, or pick up a prescription."

Prescriptions are not taxed.

And if you don't know how much you pay in taxes when you go to the grocery store or eat a restaurant, then you are not looking at your receipt. It tells you how much the tax is and most tell you the percentage you have been taxed for the product and/or the service.

jafs 7 years ago

Actually, there are some merchants who do not show the tax rate on receipts.

Don't you think that if these CID's are allowed, that participating merchants should have to post that information in a conspicuous place so that we can all see that before we spend money there?

Katara 7 years ago

Yes. there are some merchants that don't which is why I used the word most.

That's funny. You actually believe that people will read the signs conspicuously posted.

There could be a giant neon flashing sign right next to the door before you go in to the place and people will still complain that they were not told about the tax rate.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Pay As YOU Throw

Introduction Do you know how much you spend per month on electricity? How about your gas utility? The person who pays the bills in your household probably has a pretty good idea. But do you know how much you spend on garbage?

Each time your city or town sends a truck down your street to pick up your waste, it costs money. It costs money even if you drop your trash off at a local dump. Ultimately, you pay for this service, usually through your local taxes. And it's not likely that you have much control over the amount you pay, regardless of how much garbage you create.

There is a different system, however, under which residents are asked to pay for waste collection directly-based on the amount of garbage they actually generate. They're called "pay-as-you-throw" (PAYT) programs, and nearly 6,000 communities across the country have begun using them.

What is pay-as-you-throw? PAYT is a different way of paying for waste collection and disposal services. In some communities, it works on a per-container basis: households are charged for each bag or can of waste they generate. A few communities bill residents based on the weight of their trash. Either way, the system motivates people to recycle more and to think about ways to generate less waste in the first place.

For community residents, however, the most important advantage may be the fairness and greater control over costs that it offers. Do you have neighbors that never seem to recycle and always leave out six or seven bags of trash? While you may not have thought about it, right now you're helping them pay for that waste. Under PAYT, everyone pays only for what they generate-so you won't have to subsidize your neighbor's wastefulness any more. It's only fair. With PAYT, when you recycle and prevent waste, you're rewarded with a lower trash bill. Save As You Reduce and Recycle

Because of these potential cost savings, both you and your neighbors will naturally want to reduce the amount of waste that you generate. And when you reduce waste, that can mean lower costs for your community, since it costs less to collect and dispose of everyone's trash. This might even free up funding for other municipal services you depend upon-like schools and fire and police protection.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

In addition, the incentive to put less waste at the curb can make a big environmental difference. When people generate less waste and recycle more, fewer natural resources are used and there is less pollution from manufacturing. Valuable landfill space is conserved as well, reducing the need to site new facilities.

Are there disadvantages to pay-as-you-throw? While there are potential barriers to a successful program, communities with PAYT report that they have found effective solutions. Illegal dumping is a frequently raised issue. While people often assume that illegal dumping will increase once residents are asked to pay for each container of waste they generate, most PAYT communities have found this not to be the case. This is especially true when communities offer their residents recycling, composting for yard trimmings, and other programs that allow individuals to reduce waste legally. Others, particularly lower-income residents, worry about the amount they will have to pay. In many communities, however, coupon or voucher programs are being used to help reduce trash collection costs for these households.

What can I do? If you're interested in PAYT, talk to your town planner or local elected representatives! Ask them if they know about these programs and whether they would consider using one in your community. In addition, if you want to learn more, or if your local town planner is seeking specific tools to help design and implement a program in your community, EPA has developed a wide range of products that can help, located under PAYT Resources.

Flap Doodle 7 years ago

The linkbot has woken. Fear his mad copy/paste skillz!

Kat Christian 7 years ago

As usual stick it to the consumers...but BIG COMPANIES, manufacturers who "overpackage" our foods get away with it. Yes, I do buy those easy, fast meals for convenience because I'm not a stay-at-home Mom who has the time to prepare and cook all day so I need that convienience. As most families do these days. Government needs to force these manufacturers to package less or "smarters" then perhaps our trash cans won't be a full and the trash collection issue wouldn't be a problem.

irvan moore 7 years ago

i like the present system, good and dependable.

independent_rebel 7 years ago

PAYT doesn't work. It doesn't do what people like Merril say it will. A 2006 EPA report found that PAYT increases illegal dumping by 20%. Here is an interesting article.

Bob Forer 7 years ago

"PAYT increases illegal dumping by 20%."

You get a C- for reading comprehension. If you're going to link an article, at least get it right. That article doesn't claim that illegal dumping increased by 20%. Instead, it stated "Illegal dumping has cropped up in about 20%" of the communities adopting PAYT.

Two things can be inferred from a correct reading:

1) 80 per cent of the communities adopting PAYT did not have a problem with illegal dumping.

2) 20 per cent of the communities adopting PAYT had problems with illegal dumping "cropping up." The article is silent as to the extent of the illegal dumping. Could have been just a few instances per community.

Go back to school, rebel!

sustainabilitysister 7 years ago

I have lived in a community that had the PAYT policy and I really liked it. The town also had lots of recycling centers so one was never too far away for its citizens.

creamygnome 7 years ago

You might look into hiring the guys at VCU. I hear they're pretty good at taking out the trash.

monkeyhawk 7 years ago

Cheap opportunistic advertising.

monkeyhawk 7 years ago

Cheap opportunistic advertising.

pace 7 years ago

I don't believe the city has a tree trimming department. Deffenbaugh will give us great numbers, unbelievable good deals. Then once the city service is destroyed. Things will change.

ResQd 7 years ago

I don't know who in the world does the "tree trimming" in the city, but they do nothing but butcher the trees. I know they have to keep them away from the power lines, but a 2nd grader can do a better job. They look atrocious, when they are done! As far as the Lawrence trash collection; Please do not privatize it, this is one of the services that we have that is truly great. I couldn't be more pleased with the hard workers and service they provide.

pace 7 years ago

Defenbaugh will promise deals too good to be true. They are not a good company. I would not put a necessary service in their trust. With proper management and respect for the employees our city collections is our best buy. I suggest curbside collection for paper/cardboard. Grass and leaf collection, charge extra for that. Look at the waste stream with a long view. A small extra fee for grass and leaf will encourage composting and mulch mowing, design your yard a little different and have a true greener lawn. Curbside collection of paper/cardboard has been stalled by the small companies picking up one in a hundred. Every home, building in Lawrence has recyclable paper and cardboard and most going in the trash. In the long run, it will make the biggest difference would be just collect paper and cardboard curbside. In the short run it makes sense. The city could at least do a trial collection of paper and cardboard, once a week..

Kendall Simmons 7 years ago

We pay $15 a month to one of those small recyclers. He comes every Monday and picks up everything recyclable. Not just cardboard/paper (pace's suggestion). And, unlike Defenbaugh, he picks up glass. As a result, we've reduced our trash from 2-3 trash cans a week to less than 1. We can't say what that's worth to others, but it's worth every penny to us.

As an aside, what's this silliness Sven Alstrom came out with about buying Alvamar? And increasing taxes to do so??? I can't imagine anything the voters would be less likely to approve.

BruceWayne 7 years ago

why not? Eagle Bend is a HUGE money maker! Only 8 more days and Svenderella will be back on the banned list!

Bob Forer 7 years ago

A very modest increase in sanitation rates will take care of the shortfall. Also, the city may want to look at other sources of increased funds. For example, the mulch program is very very popular, and the city usually runs out of its supply very quickly and before everyone who wants gets some. Its free if you load it yourself and five bucks if the city loads your pickup with a loader. For comparison, i just purchased a load of sand from Penny's Quarry east of town on the river. Cost $31.50. The city's mulch fee is a bargain. Why not charge these folks a little more, especially when demand consistently exceeds supply.

In considering the overall city budget, the 500,000 sanitation shortfall is de minimis. I guarantee that services and employee welfare, pay and benefits will suffer should the City decide to privatize. There are certain government functions that belong exclusively with the government and sanitation is one of them. The men do a great job. They are our friends, neighbors and family. Lets keep them gainfully employed at a decent wage and their families feed. After all, this is Lawrence.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.