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VOL. 133 | NO. 144 | Monday, July 23, 2018

Every-Other-Week Yard Waste Pickup Leads City Overhaul of Sanitation

By Bill Dries

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After years of changes to the city’s basic system of sanitation services and lots of discussions and pauses between those efforts, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has waded into the fray over the most basic of city services.

His proposal to create a separate solid waste division of city government and move to every-other-week pickup of curbside waste outside city containers starting in October goes to Memphis City Council members Tuesday, July 24, for discussion and possibly a vote.

Strickland’s change is aimed specifically at the collection of garbage that isn’t in a city-issued trash bin, such as yard waste. He said Friday the collection of outside-the-container garbage is “a problem that has existed for years and years,” and that the city is much less efficient at it than at collecting garbage in bins.

The Strickland administration’s overhaul of city sanitation services goes beyond ending the city contract with Inland Waste. (Daily News File/Houston Cofield)

Strickland’s plan specifically targets the curbside collection system that requires Memphis residents to call the city’s 3-1-1 hotline, which then starts the clock running on a city pickup in the next 21 days.

“I’ve learned in 2 1/2 years as mayor not many people know that that’s our system,” he said. “Not many people know that they are supposed to call 3-1-1 before the city schedules it for pickup. And even when you do, the citizen is not happy about it sitting on the curb for three weeks. Well, neither are we.”

The most immediate demonstration of that is the city’s decision Thursday, July 20, to terminate its four-year contract with Inland Waste to handle garbage pickup to 35,000 customers in Cordova and Hickory Hill – a contract that runs out in about a year.

Strickland said he decided to end the contract because Inland “underperformed.”

“As a result we’ve had large-scale backlogs and service lapses in these contract areas,” he said.

In the interim, as the new contract that starts next summer is rebid, Waste Pro will assume the rest of the contract with Inland.

The city had used Waste Pro to clear a backlog in the areas covered by Inland this year and last year. The company also worked with the city of Germantown several years ago when it had a similar problem that led to Germantown also terminating its contract with Inland.

Strickland told the Memphis Rotary Club in May that the system is “broken” and that he was working on a plan. He also said the overhaul would apply not just to what Inland was doing but what the city was doing in solid waste.

The president of Inland’s parent company, Bobcat North America, complained in a June email to The Daily News that his company was being “thrown under the bus” by Strickland.

“Memphis has not paid our April and May bills and we are finishing the month of June this week,” Billy Dietrich wrote in the email. “I ask you, would you be working while not getting paid for a job???? We continue to do a professional job day in/day out while being thrown under a bus that we had no part of!!!”

City public works director Robert Knecht said Friday the city is current on all payments to Inland. And Strickland said the city is still exploring the possibility of seeking some kind of financial settlement from Inland to help pay the cost of the transition.

The transition to the October rollout of every-other-week yard waste pickup includes filling long-vacant solid waste positions and buying equipment, including leasing equipment to use until the purchases arrive.

“We’re 76 employees and two dozen pieces of equipment short of what’s needed to provide better service than the 21-day timeframe,” Strickland said.

He will ask the council to approve the use of between $6 million and $15 million from the city’s general fund reserves of $90 million to cover the cost as well as about a year’s worth of operations.

“Once all of this comes together, likely by October, we’ll have the necessary people and equipment to pick up garbage outside the cart every other week and without calling 3-1-1,” Strickland said of the service that is now covered by a $22.80 monthly household fee.

“We are not proposing a rate increase,” he added. “We may well have to do that in the future. We want to experience a year or so of seeing how this new model works and exactly what it costs.”

PROPERTY SALES 93 424 6,970
MORTGAGES 42 281 4,410
BUILDING PERMITS 196 704 16,619
BANKRUPTCIES 38 174 3,570