There was a lot of trash talking going on Wednesday at the Lansdale administration and finance committee.
The concept of a single trash hauler for the borough is back on the agenda after 10 months, and it includes revisiting a $17,000 study that never made it out of the public works committee in 2006.
Councilmembers have about a week to review a 2006 Gannett-Fleming Municipal Waste and Recycleables Collection study — as well as a draft preliminary survey from borough engineer Remington, Vernick and Beach — in hopes that a finalized proposed residential survey on trash hauler will be recommended to council for approval in November.
The revisit of the single hauler was prompted in December 2011 by Councilman Paul Clemente "for public safety reasons, for infrastructure reasons, for environmental reasons."
On Wednesday night, the committee discussed the idea and will now await until next month's meeting for opinions and desires from each councilmember on what should be included in the survey.
"In keeping with what has been a tradition in this borough, and with this council, we felt that it would be good to go out to our public and ask them what they think about this," said borough Manager Timi Kirchner. "Obviously, we want to make sure all of Lansdale has an opportunity to respond."
The administration and finance committee is aware of the main caveat with such a concept: residential freedom to choose their own trash hauler. (Even though the 2006 study was prompted by residents wanting a solution to the deteriorating private alleyways).
"Let's explore it," said Clemente. "We're not sitting here trying to shove anything down anybody's throat. There may be some signficant benefits to our residents."
Most of those potential benefits were outlined by borough engineer Chris Fazio, who said the goal is to "capture transparency" and for the borough to not be cavalier in making a decision on a major investment without garnering public opinion first.
"We outline reasons why the borough has an interest to look into this, that being, at the end of the day, it could be a very significant cost savings for our residents," Fazio said. "That’s a major reason why theres an interest to possibly explore this."
The 2006 Gannett-Fleming report stated residents’ trash bills could drop up to 35 percent with a single hauler. Furthermore, Lansdale might face administrative costs of $24,000 and enforcement costs of $40,000 under a single hauler, according to a 2006 article in The Reporter.
Steve Deasey, then an environmental consultant for Gannett, told the public works committee in 2006 that trash bill increases were relative to the rising costs of fuel. A single hauler could decrease rates by $100, Deasey was quoted in the article.
One potential cost saving could be the wear and tear on roads and infrastructure. Now, Fazio said, trash trucks are unregulated and unmonitored, and can come through any time of the day.
"Quality control could be lost also, because it's not a borough contract," he said. "We really have no authority or any jurisdiction over any of the private contracts people enter into."
Clemente said safety is another benefit to a single hauler. With one truck versus six or nine, it could make it safer for pedestrians, especially schoolchildren.
"Sometimes, (trucks) are in my alley behind my house at 5:15 a.m.," said committee member and council President Matt West. "In summer, when the windows are open ... I get grouchy."
Fazio concured that quality of life should be the most important thing, which the borough can regulate if it is in control of a contract. One thing the borough should be aware of, he said, is the expenses in designating people to administer the trash collection program for Lansdale.
There are five main trash haulers that serve Lansdale Borough: Republic Services, formerly Allied Waste; Interstate Waste Services, formerly Ches-Mont Disposal; Waste Management; J.P. Mascaro & Sons; and Horizon Waste Service.
All these benefits would be factored into the survey. Fazio said the survey would spell out the pros and cons for a single hauler through a series of questions related to what residents like or dislike about having their own hauler, what things could be done better and the like. The survey would also ask residents to share how much they pay for a trash hauler "to really see what people are spending versus what a single hauler would cost," Fazio said.
His firm, he said, is experienced in working with several trash haulers and several municipalities on this very idea.
"We have a very good feel for what costs are. What most people don't realize is you have to take a lot of things into account: You have to pick up trash, dispose of trash, and deal with recycling," he said.
Fazio said under recycling, the Department of Environmental Protection requires municipalities to have things like Christmas tree pickups.
Clemente said a single hauler could increase Lansdale's recycling grant monies.
Furthermore, Clemente saw a great competitiveness among municipal waste corporations to bid on such a project.
"I would think, given our economic environment, a company that engages in this type of business would be clamoring for a creative way to submit a good bid," Clemente said.
Fazio confirmed it is an extraordinary competitive field, where multimillion dollar bids differentiate by $10,000 to $100,000.
"We would put a requirement (in the request for qualifications and cost proposals) for a business-friendly approach and an outreach program where (a company) provides trifolds of paraphernalia to educate the public on what the benefit of recycling is and how residents can save money at the end of the day," Fazio said.
West wanted to know what other incentives exist to get residents behind the idea. Fazio said a program called Recyclebank allows residents to reap retail awards and coupons for recycling various paper, metal and plastic products.
"That's $5 you didn’t have, and if it makes you recycle 10 more pounds a month, so be it," said committee chairman Dan Dunigan.
The 2006 Report Trashed in Committee
In September 2005, the borough hired Gannett-Fleming to develop the study at a cost $17,500. Of that, $7,500 was a grant from the Solid Waste Association of America.
The study was a result of a series of public meetings in 2003 that determined residents wanted the borough to deal with the uneven, pothole-riddled alleyways, most of which are privately owned.
It was thought that the alleyways were deteriorating and in disrepair due to, at the time, the four main trash haulers that traversed the alleys to pick up trash twice a week.
The concept eventually died in the public works committee in 2007, according to a Sept. 15, 2007 article in The Reporter.
In a June 9, 2006 article in The Reporter, utilties director Jake Ziegler told The Reporter that it would be impossible to incorporate all councilmembers’ concerns at the committee level. Ziegler said in 2006 there wouldn’t be an agreement on an outcome.
The chairman of the Public Works Committee in 2007, Len Schmidt, was quoted as saying the concept didn’t leave committee because “we didn’t find a benefit to the borough at large.”
Schmidt said a recommendation, as far as implementation, could not be reached, according to the article. Neighbors, he said, could do the concept amongst themselves. There wasn’t a pressing need for local government to be involved in it, according to Schmidt.
At the time, Schmidt believed there was little downside to a single hauler, and committee member Carl Guenst believed saving $100 was “nothing to me” because trash costs far less than natural gas.
An Idea Resurrected
Dunigan reiterated the counterargument of all this of the government overreaching and taking away freedoms. He said the borough has to make sure not to make the process onorous on residents with unnecessary things like different-colored bags for different recyclables, for instance.
Dunigan said one thought is to have residents within each ward put together a group to weigh pros and cons of the situation and report back to council.
"We may choose to have a couple of open house discussions. You don’t get much more into somebody's life then when you start picking up their trash," he said. "I don’t share the same attachment to recyclables, but some do. This is all what we’re considering when go through this."
Some residents are intuitively driven to pick their own haulers because they can drive the best deal.
"We've got urban density," Dunigan said, "and urban density will drive the deal."
West said a recent survey of the idea on Lansdale Patch's Facebook drew some knee-jerk reactions from people without getting all the facts.
"We need to go about it the right way. Engaging Lansdale taxpayer opinions would be good, but when you're on an online environment, anybody can do it via FaceTube," West said, pointing out he made that remark on purpose.
"We need to verify Lansdale taxpayers. In talking about survey creation, we need to ask them to confirm if they live in the borough. How do we go about doing that?" he said.
The borough will make the 2006 Gannett-Fleming report available for public viewing on its website.
"The Gannett-Fleming report turns this into making this educational, so we have a well-informed public," said Kirchner.
Kirchner said the borough will need to make the survey accessible to those who may not use the Internet-based Surveymonkey, an online survey creation and data-gathering website.
The borough is discussing the possibility of mailing the surveys to residents, with the online link included on the mailing.
West said it would be a good idea for the communications commission to view the draft survey and 2006 report.
"The more eyes that see it, the better," West said.
One thing's certain in looking at the history of this topic: It will never be thrown out.
"It's a concept that keeps gaining traction because of economic and environmental benefits as people keep looking farther down road," he said. "That's why it came up in 2006, that's why it's back in 2012, and that's why if nothing happens now, it will be back in 2016. It's not going to go away as a discussion."