News and notes from around town:
• File this in the category of take it for whatever you think it is worth. But I’ve now heard from two sources that Affinitas has made significant reductions in its workforce at its Lawrence call center. Affinitas operates a call center in the lower level of the former Riverfront Mall that handles customer service for the likes of Comcast and Cox cable and other national companies.
What I’ve heard is that the company either lost a pair of major contracts or at least had them reduced near the end of 2011. One source estimated 40 employees were let go near Christmas, and several more were let go shortly before the end of the year. I’ve also heard that the remaining full-time employees have had their work schedules reduced to 30 hours per week.
It appears the company’s longtime local manager also left the company near the end of the year. I called Affinitas’ local office to ask about the layoffs. I was able to confirm the company’s manager is no longer there, but all questions about a reduction in the company’s workforce were referred to the company’s CEO in Omaha. Despite several phone calls during about a two-week period, no one from the company’s corporate headquarters ever got back to me.
I’m not sure what the workforce total is at the facility currently. My understanding is that the company had about 200 employee at its Lawrence’s location in early 2011.
I haven’t heard any official word whether Affinitas plans to move from its Riverfront Mall space, but such speculation is certainly being mentioned in some circles. Regardless, the old Riverfront Mall area will be one to keep an eye on. The city of Lawrence currently has at least two needs for office space — a location to house a “one-stop shop” for planning and development services, and the city has begun to explore the feasibility of a new headquarters for the Lawrence Police Department. The Riverfront, of course, is right next to Lawrence City Hall, and the city does rent some space for its development services office.
Another element to throw into the mix is temporary space for the Lawrence Public Library. The city still hasn’t made an official decision about whether it will relocate the library to another downtown location while construction crews expand the library at Seventh and Vermont streets. But I’ve gotten the sense that is a strong possibility. Whether the Riverfront or the Borders building or some other downtown location ends up being the new temporary home for the library, will be something to watch.
Full disclosure: Members of the Simons family, who own the Lawrence Journal-World and LJWorld.com, also own the former Riverfront Mall space.
• Get ready to talk trash — and recycling too. The city’s Solid Waste Task Force will hold a public input session from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at City Hall. The purpose of the session will be to receive feedback on the draft set of recommendations that the task force will deliver to Lawrence City Commissioners.
As we’ve previously reported, the recommendations will include the idea that all single-family households be required to use city-issued plastic, wheeled trash carts instead of standard cans or bags. The carts are a major component of creating a more automated trash system that ultimately will require less staff to pick up the trash.
Under the recommendations, each single-family household also would receive a second city-issued cart for a curbside recycling program. The system would be what folks have called “mandatory pay, voluntary participation.” In other words, your monthly trash bill is going to include a fee for the recycling service, regardless of whether you choose to use the program.
If you just want to know what all of this is going to cost you, you’ll have to wait awhile. Mayor Aron Cromwell, who chairs the task force, said he expects any increase in trash bills to amount to less than $5 per month. He notes that if somebody is paying for city trash and for a private recycling company, it is very possible that they’ll end up paying less in the future. Of course, folks who aren’t currently paying for a private recycling company may end up paying more. But the bottomline is, the city doesn’t know yet, and they won’t know until they request specific proposals from outside companies. It also is possible that the city will put together a proposal detailing how much it would cost city crews to operate a curbside recycling program.
If you want to read the entire draft report from the task force, you can do so here.
• If you live in an apartment complex or pay a commercial trash bill to the city, the report also will leave you to wonder what will happen to your trash service in the future. As we previously reported, the draft report doesn’t really delve into commercial or multi-family trash service.
I think that’s because, for whatever reason, City Hall leaders are ready for the trash task force to wrap up its work. That was pretty clear at the last task force meeting.
But I’ve heard rumblings that the city may be entering dangerous territory if it begins making changes to its residential trash service without fully understanding how its commercial service and multi-family service fits into the big picture.
The issue came up when I wrote an article about a dispute a private recycling company is having with the city regarding servicing apartment complexes. The owner of that company made a point about the city needing to justify the trash rate it charges to many multi-family tenants.
Currently, if you live in an apartment complex that has individual water meters for each apartment, you are charged just under $15 per month for trash service. That’s the same rate a single-family household is charged for trash. But the service is very different. For $15 a month, the city stops at every driveway of single-family homes, gets off the truck, empties the trash of one home and then drives to the next driveway. But for $15 a month at an apartment complex, the city goes to a Dumpster and empties the trash of — I don’t know — at least 15 or 20 apartment units in one fell swoop. Basically, apartment tenants are consolidating the trash for the city, yet they aren’t receiving any type of price break for their help.
The point being, the cost to the city to collect the trash of one single-family home surely is different than the cost to empty the trash of one apartment unit that uses a Dumpster. But I’ve never seen a breakdown of those cost comparisons. I’m not sure the city has ever done such an exercise.
It seems like it would be important to review those costs, not only for the sake of fairness but also because they could play a large role in what the city should do in the future. I don’t know what will happen when the city requests proposals from private companies for curbside recycling. But I think the following scenario is in the realm of possibility: A large private trash/recycling company tells the city it can provide curbside recycling to the city for a very low cost. But, the company also wants to take over the city’s commercial and multi-family trash service. The city can continue to operate its residential, single-family service since it is very popular with citizens.
If the city gets presented with such an offer, what should it do? Maybe it would be a good deal, maybe not. It seems that it would all depend on whether the current commercial and multi-family trash collections are subsidizing the cost of single-family trash collection. In other words, maybe the $15 a month apartment tenants pay allows the city to keep the trash rates for single-family residences lower than they would be otherwise.
I don’t think the Solid Waste Task Force is going to get the answer to that question. But I bring this up because I suspect City Hall leaders will tackle such issues. It is an example of how we’ll probably be talking about trash for some time to come.
• If you haven’t read enough about trash, well, maybe there is a support group or something you can join. Or, here’s one more article for you to look at. Evidently Fayetteville, Ark., has made a switch to a cart system for its trash recently. Here’s an article from the local newspaper detailing how that system works, and why some people don’t like it. Lawrence City Hall staff members recently passed the article along to the Solid Waste Task Force, so I thought I would pass it along to you.