OSAWATOMIE — A load of trash collection concerns were dumped at the feet of Osawatomie City Council members during a public hearing Sept. 5 at Memorial Hall, but a decision on who the city’s next service provider will be has yet to be made.
City leaders scheduled the public hearing to gather feedback from the community and to hear from representatives of the two companies bidding for the service.
The city’s contract with Waste Management is set to expire at year’s end, and Harrisonville-based WCA is vying to pick up the contract for Osawatomie’s solid waste and recycling collection program.
Waste Management was represented at the meeting by Bryce Smith, district manager, and John Blessing, public sector manager. WCA was represented by Carey Calabrese, district manager, and Tom Coffman, municipal representative.
Concerns about trash collection recently surfaced after Waste Management (formerly Louisburg-based L&K Services) took over billing from the city several months ago.
Osawatomie resident Jenny Weaver, who submitted her comments before the meeting, expressed her frustration with Waste Management.
“When Osawatomie transferred trash services to Waste Management, our account was immediately confused,” Weaver said. “We already had an account with the trash service for our trash container. When the city transferred the service, they added a second account to our address, which immediately had the company billing us twice.”
Weaver said she attempted to cancel the service in March but received a bill again in June. She recommended not contracting with Waste Management again, and she also suggested that the city go back to including the trash bill with the rest of the city utilities.
“It almost forces people to use the trash service, which in turn keeps our town a little cleaner,” Weaver said. “I am sure there is overuse of public dumpsters and private business dumpsters with people dumping their trash illegally.”
Having the city take back control of the billing was a common sentiment expressed at the meeting. Council member Tamara Maichel said she’d like to see the trash service back on the city utility bills because the city could then shut off utilities if the bill is not paid. That should cut down on the current issue of residents not utilizing a trash service and instead illegally dumping trash in commercial dumpsters or neighboring trash containers, she said.
Katie Jones, who owns two car washes in town, said she’s finding all kinds of trash being dumped in her commercial dumpsters, including fish heads and squirrel skins.
“No one wants to vacuum their car next to that,” Jones said.
Some of the residents who expressed concerns about Waste Management’s billing issues expressed even bigger concerns about changes that would be made if WCA took over the service. WCA, for instance, would use dual-axle, automated trucks that would require all residents to have their trash set out at the curb. The trucks would also not be able to utilize the city’s alleys unlike the current Waste Management single-axle trucks.
“Changing to WCA would be nuts,” Osawatomie resident and former city manager Bret Glendening wrote in a submitted comment before the meeting. “I hate Waste Management, but I know I would hate having everyone put trash on their curb.”
John Farley, an Osawatomie resident and former City Council member, said he attended the meeting planning initially to hammer Waste Management on customer service, but he’s now willing to give them a chance to rectify their errors, and he doesn’t think the city’s layout would work with WCA’s automated trucks.
He suggested that the city include an opt-out clause or perhaps a performance guarantee in any contract that is signed for future trash service.
Not all of the residents who spoke were upset with the current trash service.
“I have no complaints about Waste Management,” Osawatomie resident Ryan Maddox said.
Other residents also expressed support for Waste Management, with some stating that on the rare occasion when their trash pickup is missed, they have called and gotten it picked up the very next day.
Osawatomie resident Kathie Pinneo said her problem is not with Waste Management, but with the trash buildup that has led to nuisance calls being made on multiple homes in her neighborhood.
“It’s causing a real blight on the community,” she said.
Pinneo said resolving the billing issues that led to the problems likely makes more sense than switching to WCA, which would put heavier trucks on the streets and create curbside trash collection issues.
Blessing said he understands that billing is the biggest concern for residents, and he is hopeful that the city’s new software that is set to be installed early next year will allow the city to take back control of the billing if public officials so choose.
“We would prefer not to have to mess with billing,” Blessing said.
City Manager Don Cawby reviewed details of draft contracts for both companies with council members. The Waste Management draft contract includes a city option to take over billing in 2020. Maichel asked if that could be moved to 2019, and Cawby said it could, but he cautioned that it likely will take several months to get comfortable with the software and prepare to transfer all of the data, so he didn’t want to be locked into making the switch next year.
Cawby also asked the council members if they wanted him to draft an option for making trash pickup mandatory for city residents. Cawby said violators could be ticketed and sent to court, but it likely would be difficult to enforce, and the city would want to list possible exceptions.
Community member Virginia Adams was quick to speak out against the proposal. She said she has opted out of trash service for the past 10 years because she takes her own trash to the landfill, and her church also opts out and takes care of the trash disposal internally.
“I’m opposed to being forced to pay for something I don’t want to use,” Adams said.
Councilman Nick Hampson expressed concerns about the higher commercial rates in WCA’s draft contract. For a 2-yard container, WCA’s rate compared to Waste Management was $7.38 higher for one collection per week, $67.15 higher for two collections, $107.55 higher for three collections, $174.81 higher for four collections and $232.73 higher for five collections.
Calabrese said that without knowing details about commercial customers and frequency of pickups needed in Osawatomie, WCA had to be conservative with its commercial rates. He added that the big increases for more collections are designed to encourage businesses to limit weekly collections to three, so trucks are not making trips back for just a business or two.
“If you go over three times a week, it will be tough,” Calabrese said.
The council members did not make any official decisions at the meeting about selecting a trash provider, but they do plan to vote on the issue during their next meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Hall.
The accompanying box breaks down some of the differences between the proposed contracts with Waste Management and WCA.