Archive for Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Town Talk: Sources say local call center downsizing; city to host public input session on trash and recycling on Thursday; are renters getting a raw deal on trash?

January 17, 2012


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, 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.


gatekeeper 6 years, 4 months ago

The comments left on the Fayetteville article by residents there is pretty telling. The new system of using carts isn't working so well down there and they've only rolled it out to a small part of the city. Lawrence leaders won't care - they only want to do what they want to do, not what's best for the residents.

irvan moore 6 years, 4 months ago

so we fix a system that isn't broken, we don't know the costs involved, and it hasn't yet addressed commercial properties. looks to me like cromwell needs to get it pushed through while he's still in office, why? task force that cromwell heads to get results cromwell wants, it ain't the trash that stinks here.

Eric Neuteboom 6 years, 4 months ago

And don't forget, no recycling plan discussed will take GLASS!!!

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 4 months ago

In California, at least in Moreno Valley, glass is recycled and you are to put it in a separate container for collection.

And, if you want to get rid of an old CRT monitor or television set, that will cost you $15.

1julie1 6 years, 4 months ago

Do I understand from the Fayetteville article that the carts need to be placed 4 feet away from anything else? Does that mean 4 feet away from each other?

What will these mean, for instance, to townhome complexes where all trash cans now need to be taken to one spot in the complex's driveway by the street for pickup?

Will they now need to be spread 4 feet apart from each other, meaning they will now not fit in the existing driveway's space (not to mention filling the driveway so it can't be used at all during trash day)?

deec 6 years, 4 months ago

When Hays started the carts they did a massive clearcutting of trees in alleys to make room for the trucks to work. At least a few people received citations because their fences were too close to the alley. These carts blow over in strong winds. They are difficult to move in snow or mud. They are difficult for people with little strength, like some elders, to move. In Hays, initially they said if your cart was damaged or stolen, you would be charged $100 to replace it. I don't know if that was ever done. Several times neighbors filled their own carts and used mine without permission for their overflow, so there was no room for my trash.

somedude20 6 years, 4 months ago

my lifestyle determines my hairstyle

right now people who own or rent homes are already using trash dumpsters at apt complexs to get ride of their trash.

if you live around 17th and Vermont, congrats as I know what you dumped last summer, fall, winter and spring.

contractors drive by and shoot their loads into the apt dumpsters as well.....bugger off

Hooligan_016 6 years, 4 months ago

So much this. I rented a small apartment near 17th and Kentucky ... saw so much "illegal" dumping it wasn't even funny.

Moreover, the fact that you can put a giant couch or bed out by a dumpster and the City will take it? Utterly ridiculous. There needs to be a better system in place to get those large furniture items disposed of properly.

peartree 6 years, 4 months ago

Obviously the trash issue is really riling people up. Would it be ridiculous to have a few options on the November ballot? At least then we would be certain to have the majority of voters decide.

MarcoPogo 6 years, 4 months ago

--How in the heck can a street have too many cars?--

Go drive down sections of Jana, Pennsylvania, Alabama, 25th St., almost anywhere in the Prairie Park district, etc. There is such a thing as too many parked cars clogging the street.

pace 6 years, 4 months ago

In some communities, each neighborhood has a central dumpster site, several trash dumpsters and recycling bins. Very economical. There are a lot of choices. Some one will cry foul no matter what choice is made. To be fair, there should be links to the wide variety of communities who use the the carts, not just one who is just starting the system.

froto555 6 years, 4 months ago

Has Mr. Cromwell considered the senior citizens who live on fixed incomes? We have figured a way to fit present day trash services in to our budgets and still manage to recycle. So, if it isn't broken, don't try to reinvent the wheel

ydtptdm 6 years, 4 months ago

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