News and notes from around town:
• Here’s my prediction: A trash cart will be the trendy Halloween costume in Lawrence this year.
Certainly trash carts should be on the minds of a lot of Lawrence folks come Halloween. After months and months of talk, city commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are set to close the lid on the trash cart debate, and take the key step that would allow the carts to be in use by late October.
Commissioners are being asked to sign an $885,490 check that will allow the city to purchase 21,000 plastic trash carts. That check will begin a new era in Lawrence trash collection.
Once the city purchases the carts, it will become mandatory for all single-family residential customers to start using the carts instead of their standard trash cans or bags.
There has been a significant amount of moaning from some members of the public about the idea of this forced trash cart policy. People have complained they won’t have room to store the carts in their garages. People have complained that it will force them to get rid of perfectly good trash cans. People have complained that if government can force you to use a trash cart, what else can it force you to use?
But so far, city commissioners haven’t blinked. They’ve been pretty consistent in saying that the current system of allowing heavy cans and bags to be placed at the curb is bad business. That’s because city workers are required to lift those heavy cans and bags, which causes workplace injuries.
During the last two years, the city has experienced about $700,000 worth of workers compensation claims in the city’s solid waste division. City leaders are expecting that number to drop after the cart program is implemented because the new system will require much less heavy lifting on the part of trash crew members. All of the city’s current trash trucks already have hydraulic lifts designed to dump the carts.
Future trash trucks bought by the city may have robotic arms that would allow a driver of the truck to empty the carts by maneuvering a joystick. (See, Mom, your insistence that I not have an Atari growing up is now limiting my career options.)
Ultimately, this trash cart program could have a significant impact on the size of the city’s Solid Waste Division. But city leaders so far haven’t been highlighting the potential to reduce employee totals as a result of this program. And they have made a point to say any reduction in staff would come through attrition rather than big layoffs.
City commissioners, though, will be doing more than just writing a check on Tuesday. They also must decide how customers will be charged for these carts, and how the system will work. If there is going to be a debate at City Hall over trash carts, this is likely what will cause it.
Here’s a look at some details:
— City leaders are recommending that a 65-gallon cart be the standard size issued to residents. Of the 21,000 carts being ordered, 17,000 of them are of the 65-gallon size. The city also will be ordering 3,000 of the 95-gallon carts and 1,000 of the 35-gallon carts.
— Residents using the standard 65-gallon cart would pay $14.94 per month. That’s the current rate for the city’s trash service without a cart. In other words, the city is not proposing to increase your trash rate in order to give you a cart. The city has more than $800,000 in a reserve fund that can be used to fund the purchase of carts.
In fact, the city is touting people who currently choose to rent a 65-gallon cart from the city will see a reduction in their monthly rate under this plan. Currently, people who rent a 65-gallon cart from the city pay $16.44 per month.
— Residents using the 95-gallon cart would pay $15.94 per month under the proposed system That $15.94 per month 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. This part of the proposal may create some debate among city commissioners. There are at least a couple of commissioners who want to see residents receive a significant price break, if they are able to really limit the amount of trash they set out each week.
The idea of a 50-cent break may not be enough to satisfy those commissioners. But staff members have warned that providing too big of a break could be as messy as a bargain brand trash sack. The worry is that if people think they can save a few bucks, they’ll sign up for the 35-gallon cart even though they can’t fit all their trash into it.
Some cities have a strict policy of not taking any trash that doesn’t fit inside the cart. But Lawrence is not proposing such a policy. Instead, it would allow people to occasionally set out extra trash that won’t fit into the cart. With such a policy, it is easy to see how some people could game the system by ordering a cart that is too small for their needs.
Plus, staff members have noted that reducing the rate too much could be financially risky. Sure, if people set out less trash, the city would save some money on tipping fees it must pay at the landfill. But currently those fees don’t account for much of a household’s monthly bill. The big costs are the truck, the people riding on it, and the amount of fuel it takes to get to your house. Those costs remain the same, regardless of whether the city is picking up a 35-gallon cart or a 95-gallon cart.
— On the other end of the spectrum are those folks who put out a lot of trash. Staff members are recommending a significant increase for those households. If people have so much trash on a regular basis that they need two carts, the city is recommending they pay an extra $3 per month for a 65-gallon cart and an extra $4 per month for a 95-gallon cart. Currently, the city’s charges for an extra cart are $1.50 per month and $2 per month, respectively.
— Staff members are recommending a 120-day “right-sizing period” to start the program. During the period, city staff members will switch out the size of carts for no charge to ensure households have the size of cart that meets their trash needs. After the 120-day period, the city would charge a delivery fee to replace carts.
The city also notes, however, the idea of switching to a larger cart may not be left solely to the discretion of the household. If the city sees a household is routinely setting out more trash than can fit into the cart, the city can require the household to upgrade to larger cart and the higher monthly rate that comes with it.
— The manufacturer of the plastic carts — Rehrig Pacific Co., which has its main manufacturing plant in De Soto — will run a program to recycle current trash cans that households no longer will use. But city officials also have said they will encourage people to keep the trash cans and use them for yard waste. Households won’t be required to use the carts to set out yard waste.
So, lots of details about trash carts. Commissioners will discuss them at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday. But as my wife would say, we still don't know the really important stuff, like, what color are they going to be? I'll check in on that.
• As some of you know, I was on vacation last week, which means I have two weeks worth of land transfers to pass along.
While on vacation in Nashville, I did not buy any real estate, but that seems to be the only thing I did not buy. While in the Music City, an odd thing happened: Large amounts of water started falling from the sky. Being from Kansas, the sight was foreign to us, and my wife sought shelter in the one space that has always comforted her — the mall.
Suffice to say, never go to the restroom in a mall. During my short time away from my lovely wife’s side, she discovered a deal on three bags of gourmet cookies and found a “Coach” store, which is not nearly as much fun as it sounds.
Anyway, click here to see land transfers as recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds. Not much to report in terms of commercial sales, although it appears Lawrence landlord Doug Compton has purchased another property in the Oread neighborhood, this one at 1646 Ky.