Augusta officials are defending the proposed switch to weekly trash pickup as necessary to keep costs down and encourage recycling.
The move, approved twice by an Augusta Commission committee but not yet by the full commission, comes after a dozen years of semiweekly trash collection with weekly recycling pickup.
Both services are underutilized, according to Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson.
For the second weekly trash run, which costs the city about $2 million a year, “if you look at the tonnage on the second day of collecting, it’s lower,” Johnson said.
In addition, the city pays $1.4 million annually for its recycling program, which is used by only 20 percent of about 62,000 customer households, he said.
Johnson has pushed to revamp the service since before the collection contract ran out in 2010. After two one-year extensions, Augusta has been on a month-to-month contract with several waste haulers since January.
The contractors are unwilling to continue operating on a monthly contract, and the city can’t maintain existing service levels at current prices, Johnson said.
“We’re trying to get it where we don’t have to raise rates,” District 8 Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said.
Still, the prospect of changes to trash service brings back bad memories for many people in the largely rural District 8, which balked at mandatory trash pickup imposed on households after city-county consolidation, he said.
In the proposal, several thousand more District 8 households still responsible for their own trash will be compelled to use the city service. That means some of the independent waste haulers retained by residents for years might lose business, Guilfoyle said.
“People want to take care of the small people,” he said. “They don’t like to see them gone.”
The areas resemble Columbia County, where each household is responsible for hiring its own trash and recycling company, and competing garbage companies often pass each other in the street semiweekly.
In west Augusta’s District 7, Commissioner Jerry Brigham said he hasn’t detected much concern about the switch to weekly pickup.
“For the most part, the population is getting older and would be in a situation where they don’t need as much,” Brigham said.
The choice is “either a reduction in service at about the same rate, or the rates are going to go up,” he said.
Most customers pay around $360 a year for the service. The charge appears on their tax bills.
Johnson said that under the proposal, households get a choice of a 35-gallon cart at a discounted price, a standard 95-gallon container for around existing rates or, for larger families, two containers for an additional fee.
“Your bill is going to be driven on how much waste you produce; that should be a decent incentive for you to want to recycle,” he said.
Residents who don’t recycle will be further motivated by a new system called Recycling Perks, which awards points to users who register online, he said.
The more a household recycles, the more points it is awarded in the form of coupons for goods and services or money donated to charities. If approved Tuesday, the changes will go into effect in January.