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VOL. 128 | NO. 162 | Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Plan Changes City’s Garbage Collection

By Bill Dries

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City Public Works officials and the municipal union representing sanitation workers have reached an agreement on a plan to increase the workload for sanitation workers, move toward broader and easier recycling measures, and use some of the savings from the plan to fund a retirement supplement for older workers.

The result, if approved by the Memphis City Council, would kick off a change in the way the city has collected and disposed of solid waste for decades and shift sanitation services to a younger workforce from one that now has workers well into their 70s and even 80s.

A new plan, if approved by the Memphis City Council at its Tuesday meeting, will change the way the city collects and disposes of solid waste.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The council will consider Tuesday, Aug. 20, a first step toward the overhaul by restoring the city’s solid waste fee to $25.05, after it lapsed to a lower monthly rate in July.

“We’ve taken a step in terms of trust,” city Chief Administrative Officer George Little said Friday, Aug. 16, in presenting the plan with leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “If you think of the history of (AFSCME local) 1733, part of the history is really built upon mistrust with the city administration. If we trust each other, we can work out a scheme that maybe would allow for employee ownership of the operation. We’ve taken the first few steps, and I think the adoption of this plan furthers that trust.”

The council delayed a vote earlier this year on third and final reading on setting the solid waste fee. That led to talks among council member Kemp Conrad, the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and leaders of the AFSCME local, which represents sanitation workers.

“This is historic,” council member Myron Lowery said at the Friday committee session. Conrad acknowledged the plan is movement. But he added the city could have gotten to the solution much sooner if it had approved his proposed buyouts of sanitation workers several years ago.

“This is a work in progress,” Little replied.

On July 1, the city solid waste fee automatically dropped to $22.80, a $2.25 decrease, which amounts to $4.4 million a year less for the city’s public works division.

With the rate’s return to $25.05 would come the first step of a plan to change solid waste collection in Memphis over several years. The restoration of the revenue public works lost would finance new trucks to replace the 17-year-old vehicles that have been drawing complaints from citizens in some neighborhoods. The revenue also would pay for new recycling carts to come and would replace carts for regular trash, which still would be picked up weekly.

The city would replace 60 older garbage vehicles with the same number of new vehicles during the current fiscal year, which began last month.

The city would also buy 40,000 96-gallon recycling carts that would, in the next fiscal year, replace the existing recycling bins and go to 40,000 homes in an expansion of the city’s recycling program. In the following fiscal year, the city would stop sorting recycling into categories such as cardboard and plastics; instead it would put all of the material together in single-source recycling and broaden the range of recyclable materials that the city will process.

Another 24,000 homes would go to single-source recycling by the end of that fiscal year.

Public works would redraw garbage routes in the current fiscal year to increase the number of stops per route by approximately 100 homes a day. Crews on those trucks would increase from two to three workers as they collect garbage in carts as well as excess trash. There would be no more special crews to collect excess trash.

The city would solicit bids from private companies for solid waste pickup at 40,000 homes in Hickory Hill, Cordova, Countrywood, Southwind and Windyke.

Eighty vacant positions would be eliminated, for a total estimated savings of $4.7 million.

In the following fiscal year, in addition to single-source recycling, the city would roll out a “pay as you throw” fee plan that charges citizens more for excess waste and yard debris.

Savings the city believes it will get in the transition and from the overhaul of sanitation services would go, in part, to finance a supplemental retirement plan for older sanitation workers to retire in a plan that is capped at approximately $1,000 a month. The city would not commit to any additional funding of the supplement beyond savings from the plan in the city’s solid waste fund.

Union sanitation workers were briefed on the plan, including the supplemental retirement fund, at a Saturday meeting by union leaders who endorsed the plan and were instrumental in working out the details with the administration.

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