VOL. 129 | NO. 217 | Thursday, November 6, 2014
Council Pans City Garbage Proposal
By Bill Dries
The administration of Mayor A C Wharton Jr. calls it SMART – Save Money And Reduce Trash. It’s a rebranding of the slow move to a pay-as-you-throw concept for city garbage and trash pickup.
City Public Works Director Dwan Gilliom rolled out the rebrand Tuesday, Nov. 5, to a Memphis City Council committee, and the council reviews were not good.
“Same thing,” council member Wanda Halbert said almost as soon as the PowerPoint graphic of the SMART logo appeared on the council committee room screen.
Gilliom said the additional fees for curbside pickup of anything that doesn’t go into the city’s green containers and the new, larger recyclables container – including for bags of leaves and anything else – is necessary to close a $10 million gap in revenues projected for the city fund that pays for garbage pickup.
The city in 2010 enacted a fee for residents who want a second green garbage container. Meanwhile, the recycling bin is now a larger container that takes a wider array of materials for recycling from households.
While Gilliom argued that Memphis is unlike any other city of its size in its policy of picking up most anything left by the curb, Halbert and other council members said Memphis is not like other cities in terms of its high percentage of taxpayers living in poverty.
“We cannot continue knocking on the door of an impoverished city,” Halbert said.
Gilliom said he agreed and that the fees for extra services would target commercial users of the services that he says are overwhelming the city and creating the revenue gap. A new system, he argued, could lead to a reduction in the monthly fee for homeowners who use just the two containers issued by the city with no extra charges.
“We cannot operate in the same way we are operating and close a $10 million gap,” he said.
Council chairman Jim Strickland questioned why the city doesn’t move to “managed competition” for such garbage pickup that would involve private companies bidding to do the services as well as city employees forming their own entities to contract to do the services.
When Gilliom talked about something other than contracts with private companies, Strickland said, “We must have different definitions of managed competition.”
Other council members countered that the city’s limited use of private contractors on some routes got off to a rough start earlier this year with missed pickups.
Wharton’s first attempt to move toward pay as you throw involved negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing sanitation workers, to cut routes and make more efficient use of the workers to hold off a move to further privatize or outsource the work.
But the council balked last year at approving the money to purchase new sanitation vehicles Gilliom still contends he needs to carry out the efficiencies. At the time, the administration said it would be tough, but it could handle not having the vehicles immediately. Eighty new sanitation vehicles, according to Gilliom, are “on the way.”
Before any details for the proposal are agreed on, there are three steps: the formation of a committee, a “public education” program and a study.
The specific options to be filtered through all of that could include free landfill days for residents to take to the dump any waste the city would charge extra to pick up; tags for bags of garbage including leaves that cost more; and incentives for landscaping and similar professional services firms to take tree trimmings and yard waste to a landfill themselves.
The incentives would include the firms getting free mulch for the trimmings and yard waste they take to the landfill.
Council member Janis Fullilove said instead of taking items to a landfill on free days, some Memphians would simply dump them illegally in other places.
“Fees are taxes too,” she added. “I think we are taxing our residents to death.”
No council vote on moving ahead with the formation of a committee as a first step is scheduled at this time.
And most council members with an opinion weren’t interested in the developing details.
“I’m not fully convinced we have the same priorities,” said council member Lee Harris.
Joe Brown managed to be the most dismissive of the council members offering opinions Tuesday while being the most sympathetic to Gilliom.
“You came down here and let the council beat the hell out of you – and for what?” he asked Gilliom.
“The deficit is real,” Gilliom replied.