Quincy News

Solid waste changes balance costs, revenue

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 14, 2019 7:20 am Updated: Feb. 14, 2019 3:14 pm

QUINCY -- Paul Havermale, who is nearing the end of 16 years as 3rd Ward alderman, thinks he missed his last opportunity to steer Quincy out of the trash collection business.

Havermale is not critical of the way city crews handle solid waste collections.

"I think our city workers do a good job and offer a good value for the dollar," Havermale said.

His contention is that those dollars, those expenditures, could be made by private providers, freeing the city of unnecessary costs and allowing a greater focus on keeping up city infrastructure and providing police and fire protection.

"In this economy ... we either have to redo how we offer services or offload to a private option to keep it going. Solid waste (privatization) made the most sense to me because there's a well-documented private option," Havermale said.

Members of the Quincy City Council recently approved doubling the cost of trash stickers to $1.50, charging $5 per month for recycling collections, requiring trash containers at the curb to avoid torn trash bags and offering free yard waste collections for at least a year.

On several votes taken in late January, 11 of the 14 aldermen agreed with those changes. However, several council members have said they are not fans of higher fees, and more of these difficult decisions will be needed.

Alderman Mike Rein, R-5, thinks the price increases will cover the costs of solid waste collections for a while.

"I don't think this is a permanent solution. Maybe it will last for three or four years, I don't know. But there will come a time when the cost of garbage will go up enough that it might be cheaper to do it through a contractor," Rein said.

Alderman Jack Holtschlag, D-7, isn't a fan of turning over trash collections to private haulers. He thinks garbage collection and yard waste collections should continue to be offered by the city.

"We've got to keep some services for the constituents," Holtschlag said.

Alderman Eric Entrup, R-1, said the city's tote program is an often-overlooked option. After paying a $60 purchase fee, the users pay $12.99 per month. City trucks with tote tippers pick up the trash.

Central Services Director Kevin McClean estimates that about 1,200 people are using totes, representing a little less than 10 percent of city households.

"You can probably fit eight to 10 of the small garbage bags in the totes. It saves our guys from having to reach in and pull out heavy bags," McClean said.

Alderman Jeff VanCamp, I-6, said with the $1.50 trash stickers, Quincyans might want to do the math to see if the totes are now the most economical way to handle their trash.

"It also takes care of the complaints from people who say they don't like having to go buy trash stickers," Entrup said.

Recycling is a more complicated issue.

VanCamp hopes to see at least half of Quincyans opt in for the recycling program. Anyone who puts out enough recyclables that their items would fill an additional three bags of trash each month will find it worthwhile to pay the $5 fee for recycling, VanCamp said.

"We heard loud and clear at the town hall meetings that people wanted to keep that recycling program," VanCamp said.

Rein is not certain there will be enough support to make recycling a paying proposition. He's willing to see what happens.

"I was surprised to see what Rolla (Mo.) is doing and how they're making money at recycling," Rein said.

Brady Wilson, Quincy's first recycling manager, told The Herald-Whig that the city of 20,000 has made a minimum of $250,000 in recent years operating its own municipal recycling program.

"The council is being told that nobody wants (recyclables). We have a mayor and city staff to do that homework," Rein said.

Although the contract with Quincy Recycle represents a cost to the city at this time, VanCamp thinks the market will recover and in some future contract the city may start getting paid for recyclables.

Rein expects that aluminum cans always will be worth recycling and cardboard has a ready market. There is little market for plastics at this time. There are a few markets for glass, but some recycling companies avoid glass because of injuries that drive up costs.

In coming months, city officials say the number of people who opt in for recycling will tell part of the tale on solid waste costs. Those who opt in will be paying utility fees. Those who don't will be putting more items in trash bags, which require $1.50 stickers.

It will take longer to determine whether a yard waste program without additional fees can continue.

Alderman Dave Bauer, D-2, would like to see the city go at least a couple of years before considering any fees or stickers for yard waste.

"We have a lot of residents who pick up leaves and debris from their yards that's not really theirs," Bauer said.

Yard waste may come from trees along rights of way or from neighboring properties.

"I think it's good for the city to get leaves and grass clippings picked up, otherwise they end up in the sewer and then we have to clean them out," Bauer said.

Aldermen say all three collection programs -- garbage, recycling and yard waste -- should be good for at least a while.

It will be up to future councils to watch the math and see when city costs exceed the revenue. Then it will be time to either increase fees or hand off the programs to private haulers.