Quincy to stay in trash, recycling business for at least year

Anthony Sassen of the City of Quincy throws a trash bag into a truck in an alleyway off of 3rd and College Street in Quincy on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. The City Council proposed to double the trash sticker prices. | H-W File Photo
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 22, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY — A direct question from Alderman Mike Farha, R-4, to two city leaders revealed that despite upheaval in the industry, the city of Quincy will be staying in the garbage and recycling business for at least another year.

The question was posed as aldermen debated on purchasing two new garbage trucks during Tuesday night's Quincy City Council meeting. The meeting was delayed a day in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

"It certainly looks that way," said Kevin McClean, director of Central Services, in response.

He later said the new trucks will replace two 2002 trucks. Each truck needs more than $15,000 in repairs.

McClean said he hopes Quincy residents who participate in the opt-in recycling program and trash collection service would be relieved to see that the city was continuing both services.

The council voted 11-2 to purchase the trucks, which will cost the city $411,782. McClean said if the city should later decide to outsource or privatize trash and recycling collection, the city would be able to sell the vehicles for a "fair price."

Voting in favor of the purchase were Aldermen Tonia McKiernan, D-1, Eric Entrup, R-1, Jeff Bergman, R-2, Dave Bauer, D-2, Jason Finney, R-3, Mike Rein, R-5, Richie Reis, D-6, Katie Awerkamp, D-6, Benjamin Uzelac, D-7, Jack Holtschlag, D-7, and Farha. Voting in opposition were Aldermen Tom Ernst, R-3, and John Mast, R-5.

Mast said his opposition to buying new trucks rests with his desire for the city to explore privatizing trash and recycling, with a company chosen City Council.

"With all of the issues facing the city -- the budget, our pension obligations -- being in the trash business tends to not make a lot of sense to me," Mast said. "If more people truly understood how much these programs were costing the city then I think there would be further discussions about privatizing. I think the city is better off privatizing trash service in the long term."

Last fall, Quincy Comptroller Sheri Ray told council members that the number of garbage stickers sold had plummeted about 40% since the rate for garbage stickers had increased earlier in the year.

The number of Quincy residents enrolled in the city's garbage tote program went from 1,023 in May to 3,166 in September. The city has continued to sell 30,000 stickers per month, but Ray said last fall the number of stickers sold per month looked likely to fall.

The opt-in recycling program, where participating households pay $5 per month, has generated $340,000 for the city.

The city had initially planned on selling new recycling bins for $14,000, later opted to use the current orange-colored bins and to sell large decals. The sale of those decals has generated $10,000 for the city.

Affecting the profitability of the recycling program is the decline in the international recycling market.

Officials had estimated the recycling contract with Quincy Recycle would have cost the city $12,000. Last fall, Ray said she thinks the city would pay Quincy Recycle between $40,000 to $50,000 to take the recycling materials in 2019.

"Over 80% of what we are taking to Quincy Recycle costs us money," Ray said.

Under the agreement, Quincy Recycle pays the city $80 per ton for plastics and non-fiber materials. The city is charged $40 per ton on any paper, cardboard or other fiber materials taken to the recycling company. A $95 per ton fee is charged to the city for every "dirty" load of recyclable materials, which Quincy Recycle deems to have been contaminated or not usable because of the presence of another non-recyclable material.

It those details that Mast says pushes him to reject buying new garbage trucks.

Yet, backers of the city's involvement in garbage and recycling say the city has taken steps to alter those circumstances.

"We did buy a used recycling truck, which has helped us a lot with dirty loads," McClean said.

Others like Alderman Entrup, who is on the city's Central Services Committee, say they are optimistic that the city's participation levels have stabilized, allowing city leaders to better analyze the revenues and costs of both programs.

"Everything was so uncertain," Entrup said. "We didn't have any hard numbers as to what to expect by selling garbage stickers and totes, but it turns out that we sold a lot more totes than we did garbage stickers. Now, we are trying to get everything ironed out."

Entrup said residents are likely weary from having another round of debate over the trash and recycling. Yet, Aldermen Uzelac and Mast say another round of debates may be in the near future.

Uzelac, who supported the purchase of the new trucks, says he thinks the city should privatize its trash and recycling.

"I'm not confident that this is a business that we need to be in," Uzelac said. "I won't speak for all of my colleagues on the City Council, but I do believe that there is a general consensus that the city should look at privatization."

Ideally, Uzelac said city employees who now pick up trash and recycling could be reassigned to other crews within the department filling potholes, building sidewalks and doing other work.