Get ready to close the lid on Lawrence’s great trash cart debate.
After months of hand-wringing, city commissioners at their Tuesday meeting will be asked to approve the $885,490 purchase of 21,000 wheeled plastic trash carts that will be distributed to essentially every single-family household in the city. The purchase is part of a plan to require households to use the carts rather than traditional trash cans or bags. If approved, the carts likely would be distributed in October.
“I’m confident this is going to create a better trash system than what we have now,” said City Commissioner Mike Dever.
City leaders are projecting the city’s workers’ compensation claims will drop significantly with the new system because sanitation workers won’t be required routinely to lift heavy trash cans and bags. Instead, hydraulic lifts that currently are on all city trash trucks will be used to dump the carts.
The city had about $700,000 worth of workers’ compensation claims in the Solid Waste Division in the last two years.
“It is one of the more accident-prone positions in the entire city,” Dever said. “We can’t just keep ignoring that there are ways that will make the lifting much easier.”
The idea of mandated carts, however, has not been universally loved. Some residents have complained they won’t have enough room to store the carts in their garages. Some have complained the system will force them to get rid of a perfectly good trash can. Others have expressed concern the new mandate is an overreach of government authority.
But city officials said they think the carts eventually will become popular with residents.
“What we have learned from other communities is there’s usually a one- or two-month adjustment period, but once you get past that period, people really like having the carts,” said Tammy Bennett, assistant public works director.
Bennett also said the city will be prepared to assist during the transition. She said a staff member likely would be available to come to individual homes to provide advice on how a garage or storage shed, for example, could be slightly rearranged to make room for the cart, for residents who don’t want to store the cart outdoors.
The city also will have a 120-day “right-sizing period,” where the city will take extra steps to ensure a household has the right size cart to meet its trash needs.
All single-family households, Bennett said, will be given a 65-gallon cart, unless they specifically request a different size. The city also will offer, upon request, a 35-gallon or 95-gallon cart. During the 120-day right-sizing period, the city will switch out carts at no charge.
Commissioners at their Tuesday meeting also will be asked to approve a rate plan for the various size carts. Details of the staff’s proposed rate plan include:
• Residents using the 65-gallon cart would pay $14.94 per month, which is the same rate currently charged to households that don’t use a cart. People who currently rent a 65-gallon cart from the city pay $16.44 per month, so those households will see a $1.50 decrease in their monthly rates under the plan.
City officials said they don’t need to raise rates to pay for the new carts because they had an equipment reserve fund that could cover the cost of the carts.
• Residents using the 95-gallon cart would pay $15.94 per month under the proposed system That is $1 less than what city residents currently pay for trash service, if they rent a large cart from the city.
• Residents using the 35-gallon cart would pay $14.44 per month. That’s 50 cents less than the current base rate, which doesn’t include any type of cart.
The proposed rate for the 35-gallon cart already has drawn some discussion from city commissioners.
Dever and Commissioner Mike Amyx both have said they want to give residents a real incentive to put out less trash, but they’re not sure 50 cents per month will provide the necessary impetus to reduce their waste.
City staff members are cautioning against a larger price break because it could cause some people to abuse the new system. Under the current proposal, the city will allow people to set out extra bags of trash on an “occasional basis” when they can’t fit all their trash in their carts.
But staff members said they don’t want to provide households an incentive to get a cart that is too small for their needs.
Dever said he was willing to give the proposed 50-cent price break a try, but wanted to study the issue again before setting rates for 2014.
“It is really more of a token gesture at this point in time,” Dever said.
If commissioners on Tuesday approve the purchase of the carts — most of which would be made at the Rehrig Pacific manufacturing plant in De Soto — Bennett said she thinks they could be delivered to people’s homes by late October.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.