City official recommends garbage pickup be reduced to once a week

Augusta will have a chance to renegotiate the terms of citywide garbage service next year, and Solid Waste Director Mark Johnson says he’ll recommend cutting back from twice-a-week to once-a-week trash pickup.

The contracts with Augusta Disposal & Recycling, Inland Service, Corp., and Advanced Disposal end Dec. 31, 2010. The city could extend them to 2012 without changes, take the opportunity to re-set the parameters and cut costs, or put the jobs back out for bid, Mr. Johnson said.

At Monday’s Engineering Services Committee meeting he told city commissioners – who will ultimately decide – that he doesn’t think city residents need their cans dumped twice a week.

“I am of the opinion that we over-serve,” Mr. Johnson said.

He also suggested allowing residents to pay different sets of rates based on how much trash they need taken away.

For those who need the least amount, they could pay to have one 35-gallon container dumped. The next step up would be a single 95-gallon can, which customers currently have. Above that, they could pay for two 95-gallon cans.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Johnson said he didn’t know how much money could be saved or what those rates might be. “There are too many moving targets right now,” he said.

Other adjustments could be made to make the service – which has been mandatory and tacked on tax bills citywide since 2001 – more efficient, Mr. Johnson said.

Perhaps bulk waste could be picked up only by request, rather than having trucks drive through neighborhoods weekly looking for it, he said. The same might go for large limbs and trees.

Perhaps the city’s haulers shouldn’t be picking up yard waste at all unless it’s bagged, leaving bigger jobs to private companies which customers could pay separately, he said. Maybe only two tires should be picked up at a time, instead of the current four.

The question is whether the service should be designed around what most people need, or around the exceptions to the rule, which is more costly but might contribute to an overall cleaner city.

“How do you frame the service?” Mr. Johnson said. “Do you frame it around the common need? Not a lot of people cut down trees.”

This year, the trash rate for Augusta’s 60,000 or so customers went up by $9.50 – 79 cents more a month, or a 3.2 percent increase.

The increase is expected to bring in about $570,000 in extra revenue, with $404,000 of that covering an increase in haulers’ cost and the rest meant to chip away at the city’s deficit.

Augusta Disposal & Recycling also works in Columbia County – where trash service is between residents and private haulers – and on its own initiative stopped twice-a-week pickup in Grovetown and in the Ivy Falls, Chamblin Road and North Belair Road areas, according to Contract Administrator Monique Woods.

With more people recycling, households are generating less trash, she said. Driving into those neighborhoods twice per week became a waste of manpower and fuel. In a given area of 100 customers, Ms. Woods said, 75 might only want once-a-week pickup.

“Then it’s not cost-effective to go back in there for the other 25,” she said.

The solution, she said, has been to give those 25 two cans.

Engineering Services chairman Commissioner Jimmy Smith said a workshop on the issue will be held on an undetermined date in November.

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