One week after being pelted with concerns from Lawrence residents, the city’s Solid Waste Task Force on Thursday said it heard them loud and clear.
Then the group spent most of its meeting Thursday evening developing a document explaining why the city should move ahead with major changes to its trash and recycling systems anyway.
Task force members last week hosted their largest public forum yet on draft recommendations that would require all single-family households to start using special plastic carts for their trash, and would require residents to pay for a citywide curbside recycling service.
Here’s a look at how the task force responded to what it said were several of the major concerns brought up at last week’s forum:
• “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While task force members stopped short of saying the city’s current trash system is broken, they said it could be improved quite a bit. Some task force members mentioned financial problems with the service. For example, as late as 2008 the city’s auditor found the service was operating at an annual loss of about $500,000. The department’s finances have improved since then, but there have been questions about whether the current system has relied too heavily on deferring equipment purchases and reduced staffing.
Plus, Mayor Aron Cromwell — who chairs the task force — said the city is trying to accomplish some important goals by changing the service.
“We’re trying to be safer for our workers, more cost effective, and increase our recycling rate,” Cromwell said. “That’s really what we’re trying to accomplish.”
• Trash carts: Concern about where to store the trash carts has been significant. Task force members said experience in other communities suggests that if you are able to store your trash can inside your garage currently, you’ll be able to find a way to store a trash cart in your garage as well. In other words, they take up about the same amount of space. If you store your trash can outside currently, you’ll probably store your cart outside too. Several task force members said that would be an improvement.
“There are a lot of garbage cans sitting outside today,” said Joe Harkins, a member of the task force. “These carts probably will be better looking than many of the pieces of junk that are out there now.”
The task force has said the carts are essential to improving the efficiency and safety of the system. The carts will allow the city to use more trucks with hydraulic lifts, eliminating the need for workers to physically lift trash bags or cans.
• Cost: Task force members said they understand residents are nervous about how much more the service may cost. The task force is confident the new mandated carts won’t result in an increased monthly trash rate. That’s because the city is expecting workers’ compensation claims to fall significantly. But adding a new citywide, curbside recycling program will come with a cost.
The task force doesn’t know how much yet. Instead, it is recommending the City Commission receive bids on the service and also calculate how much it would cost city crews to run the system. Cromwell said he’s confident if the costs are “too high,” commissioners won’t approve the new system.
The task force also said it had heard concerns about forcing people to pay for curbside recycling service regardless of whether they use the service. But several task force members said the situation wasn’t different than the city’s current yard waste program. All single-family households pay for the yard waste program as part of their monthly bill, regardless of whether they use the service.
The task force is scheduled to hold a short meeting Tuesday to give approval to its final report. Cromwell said city commissioners likely will then schedule a study session with the task force to discuss the recommendations. City commissioners will make all final decisions on changes to the system.