COLUMBIA — The idea of switching from garbage bags to roll cart bins for trash collection has prompted a lot of community discussion — and sparked some dissent — since it was first proposed in early May.
As it stands, the Public Works Department plans to include the conversion in its proposed budget for fiscal 2013, which begins Oct. 1. Richard Weiman, the city's solid waste utility manager and author of the proposal, said he is aware of residents' concerns and he offered answers to some of their questions.
How much would the conversion cost?
There would be a one-time expenditure of $5.9 million to buy 10 new collection trucks and 44,000 roll carts. The proposal calls for making a $1.3 million down payment from the Utility Reserves and borrowing the rest of the money from the city's designated loan fund over the next 10 years.
After initial start-up costs, the annual expense of operating the roll cart program would be "a little less" than the current system, for which the city budgeted $2.6 million for fiscal 2012. The savings would primarily come from the elimination of four employees, which will save $92,632.
How would the "clean energy" aspect of the trucks play into the budget?
The Clean Energy Company has told city officials that it would install a compressed natural gas fueling station at no cost if the city can guarantee it will use at least 15,000 gallons per month. If the city uses less, the cost per gallon would increase.
It would cost $400,000 to equip 10 trucks to use compressed natural gas, according to a July 2 report to the Columbia City Council. Compressed natural gas would replace 48,000 gallons of diesel per year. At a projected savings of $1.40 per gallon, annual savings on trash collection vehicles would be $67,200. With that, payback of the $400,000 would be realized in about six years.
How would residents with disabilities or illnesses adapt to the roll carts?
Just as it does with the current trash system, the city would make accommodations for those physically unable to bring trash and recyclables to the curb. Collectors would pick up their refuse from the house instead. However, the city will require verification through residents' health care providers before providing the service.
How would the system operate in extreme weather situations?
Employees collecting trash will be more comfortable because the new trucks are equipped with automated loaders that pick up the bins and dump their contents. That means workers will be inside the climate-controlled trucks rather than out picking up refuse.
Weiman said the new trucks will be as able as the current trucks to withstand extreme weather. The roll carts also will be more durable in bad weather than trash bags.
For areas where curb space is limited because of driveways or parked cars, how would the roll cart system work?
"That's an issue that we're aware of and would have to be addressed," Weiman said.
Weiman said one solution might be to have customers place their carts at the end of their driveways.
How might the new system affect recycling?
An evaluation of the roll cart system prepared by the Public Works Department said there would be no immediate change in the way the city collects recyclables. Other cities with roll cart collections have said they generally see increases in recycling when "containerized" systems are put in place.
How would the change affect residential bills for trash collection?
The new system would allow residents to choose roll carts by size, ranging from 32 to 92 gallons. All residents would pay a base monthly rate of $15.42, but if their amount of trash exceeds the size of the roll cart they choose, they would have to pay an extra fee, depending on the amount of trash or yard waste placed outside of the roll carts. The city also is considering whether it would have to charge extra fees for collection of bulky items, which the roll carts can't handle. The $15 fee for collecting unwanted appliances at the curb would not change.
When can the public voice its opinions?
The Public Works Department conducted a survey in 2011. Of the 1,900 people who responded, 50.5 percent said switching to roll carts would be an improvement while 49.5 percent said it would not.
The proposal will be up for discussion in August and September during public hearings held by the council on the budget for fiscal 2013.