Platte City considers pilot program
ome changes in the recycling program within Platte City may be on the horizon, with the city leaning to going to every-other-week pickup instead of weekly, at least for a trial period.
For years the city has provided weekly recycling pickup for residents at no charge. Cost of the recycling program is included in the monthly solid waste collection fee, which is currently $15 per month for a single family. That $15 per month pays for once per week curbside solid waste collection and currently for once per week recycling collection.
Due to the city being hit with increased costs of processing of the recyclables, the city has been studying options for the recycling program’s future.
Earlier this month, the city’s public works subcommittee recommended that city staff put together plans for a pilot program in which the once per week curbside recycling program be reduced to twice per month curbside collection. The belief is that reducing the frequency from once a week to every other week would allow the program to be at no cost to residents.
Staff has also been asked to bring back analysis of any rate adjustments that may be needed to maintain the solid waste program as at least a break-even operation.
In August 2020, the city’s recycling processor provided notice that processing fees would increase by several orders of magnitude (from 75 cents per ton to $75 per ton), with the increases to come in $15 per ton per month increments.
“Phasing the fee increases over a six month period provide the city with an opportunity to conduct a more comprehensive review of the recycling program including an opportunity for substantial residents comments and involvement in the decision-making process.
A variety of public comment and involvement opportunities occurred between December of 2020 to March of this year, including public outreach and comment through the utility newsletter and bin stickers, an extensive social media effort and an online public survey, concluding with a traditional public hearing.
Gehrt said all respondents support continuing the curbside recycling program. In fact an overwhelming majority continued to support the curbside recycling program even if it required a fee increase of up to $1 per month.
The city provides each residential customer with a 96 gallon recycling cart for single stream recycling of mixed paper, cardboard, metal and specified plastic materials. The city does not accept glass in its recycling program.
The city delivers its single stream recycled materials to the Waste Management processing center in northern Wyandotte County, Kan.
Reducing curbside recycling to every other week will reduce direct expenditure by about $1,000 to $1,500 annually (mainly fuel and vehicle maintenance).
“This reduction would allow the city to delay a solid waste rate increase by at least a year,” Gehrt says.
Most importantly, this change would allow about 500 staff hours to be used to provide other city services. Gehrt said the city does not have enough information to determine if adjusting the collection schedule would significantly impact customer participation rates or recycling tonnage.
Another alternative that has been discussed is to maintain the current recycling program at once per week. It is estimated this could be done with an increase in the solid waste collection fee of 25 cents per month.
Another alternative that was considered would be to offer curbside collection at either weekly or every other week and operate a city drop-off facility for recyclables. But this option would have significant capital project costs for construction, potential operating cost impact of a staffed facility or unstaffed facility with controlled access. Access fees would subside drop off site operations. A fee increase equal to the subsidy gap would be needed.
Yet another alterative would be to partner with or encourage a private sector firm to provide direct fee for service glass recycling with interested residents.
The immediate need for significant changes to the recycling program has been reduced, as recycling processing fees paid by the city have decreased from a high of $75 per ton in late 2020 to the current charge of $40 per ton.
However, that $40 per ton is significantly more than the 75 cents per ton cost the city was paying as late as July of 2020.
THE PILOT PROGRAM
Gehrt says there are a large number of details on how a pilot program of every-other-week collection would be implemented and evaluated, the general guidance from the committee was focused on the following concepts:
*The pilot program would have a defined start and stop date with a return to weekly curbside recycling planned (although not guaranteed) to provide time to evaluate outcomes and public response to the pilot program.
*The pilot program would be at least a six to 12 month period to provide long enough for a valid evaluation/comparison with current program. Ensure ability to return to current operations at any point during the pilot program if needed.
*If implemented, the pilot program would require multi-month public information and outreach program to provide as much lead time and opportunity for public input as possible.
*If a pilot program is approved, the earliest implementation date would the first quarter of 2022.
THE SOLID WASTE
The solid waste (refuse) program is intended to function as a self-supporting enterprise fund with fee revenue sufficient to cover annual program costs, Gehrt says.
The city administrator said the solid waste program is generally self-supporting with average annual revenue of $347,000 (that’s a five year average) and annual expenditures of $341,000.
“A $6,000 average of revenue over expenditures shows that the program is operating right at the end of self-sufficiency,” Gehrt said.
Any “fat” in the budget has already been sliced, according to Gehrt’s analysis.
“The city has maintained costs at or near the same level for several years, making it difficult to find significant additional operating efficiencies,” he said.
The combination of lean operating costs and tight operating margins indicate that a rate increase should be considered in either the 2021-22 or 2022-23 fiscal year budget, Gehrt remarked.
Gehrt said a small monthly rate increase of 15 cents to 45 cents per month in the next budget would likely require an additional adjustment within the following two years. A larger rate increase of around 85 cents to $1 per month would provide rate relief “for an extended period,” he said.