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Published: Monday, 6/29/2009

Keeping pickup automated

BY BILL FRANKLIN AND JULIAN HIGHSMITH

Over the last three plus years, the city of Toledo solid waste division has taken steps to reduce its costs to the general fund budget as revenues continue to decrease. For example, the solid waste division has reduced the number of trash routes from 33 to 27, moved trash from the alley to the curbside, and implemented the LEAP plan earlier this year. Even with these changes within our operations, we still need to continue and study ways to reduce our operating costs.

In the last year, we conducted a 10,000-household automation program to study the feasibility of converting from a costly manual three-crew collection system to a more modern, efficient, one-person crew.

As part of the study, we conducted a survey where we learned 89 percent of all cities Toledo s size have moved from manual collection to automation to try to reduce their operational costs. Once we finished our pilot program, we felt we should automate the entire refuse operation.

During the pilot program, we evaluated four options: the cost to continue our services as usual; subcontracting to an outside company; converting to automated trash collection in-house, or privatizing the city s trashcollection program. Privatization would require all residents to hire their own waste disposal-trash collection company.

After an extensive review, the city narrowed the choices to three: move toward citywide automation, purchase the trucks, and reduce the work force by 70 positions; subcontract the work to a private company and find other positions for the approximately 125 city workers who would be displaced, or enact full privatization, whereby the city would no longer be in the solid waste collection business and citizens would hire their own waste collection company. This last option, we thought, is not practical for or by cities our size.

After evaluating these three options, the administration recommended keeping the work in-house for the following reasons:

First and foremost, the city would maintain control of customer service and costs. Also, by reducing the work force, the city would save about $6 million a year, which will allow us to purchase new trucks and carts for a cost of $3 million a year. The remaining $3 million would go into the general fund for use to support police and fi re or other general-fund operations.

Another factor in retaining the service in-house is the fact-fi nder s decision, which states that if the city subcontracts the work, it is obligated to fi nd other city positions for the displaced workers. We do not have 125 positions in nongeneral fund operations available for the displaced workers.

We would be required to place them in general fund posts, which would add to the cost.

After weighing these options, the city decided it was best to automate and keep the work in-house.

Bill Franklin is service director for the City of Toledo.

Julian Highsmith is commissioner of solid waste.



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