New York town overhauls trash service
DeWitt, N.Y., had relied upon multiple private companies to collect and haul the town’s trash for years. However, following numerous price increases, local officials decided it was time to reconsider that setup. By establishing a special district and hiring a single service provider, the town has organized pickup, lowered subscriber fees and reduced the number of trucks traveling residential streets.
Since 1987, DeWitt has typically licensed six to 10 haulers to transport garbage from the town’s 6,500 households; and, as a result, the town has had no control over prices or organization of collection services. Faced with those problems, local officials appointed a committee to study the town’s solid waste program and to suggest improvements.
The committee consisted of residents, local officials, haulers’ representatives and the town’s engineer, Syracuse, N.Y.-based O’Brien & Gere. It was opposed by waste haulers and their local trade association, as well as by residents, who were concerned about government involvement and the effect of change on competition and prices. Two subsequent committees were equally opposed, forcing the town to table proposed changes in 1992.
Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down flow control, opening the door for cities and counties to negotiate competitive tipping fees. As a result, DeWitt residents convened a fourth committee to investigate the feasibility of using the prospective savings to support a solid waste special district.
With the assistance of Lettergraphics, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based mail-marketing firm, the committee surveyed residents. Fifty-one percent of the sample responded, and the committee discovered that 77 percent of those supported the formation of a solid waste district. Additionally, residents supported a contract for a single provider.
Established in 1998, the special district encompasses all of DeWitt and is divided into four sections. Within every section, each resident can select from four services, including self service (meaning the resident delivers his trash to a transfer station) and one-, three- or unlimited-bag pickup. The services are provided by a single hauler, which was selected through bidding and signed to a two-year, $1.4 million contract.
The new subscription program kicked off in January 1999. Although complaints approached 100 per month in the winter and spring, officials determined that the problems were caused primarily by snow and ice, and the hauler’s lack of familiarity with the town. Thereafter, the complaints declined steadily to a low of 15 in November.
Since its inception, the program has saved DeWitt residents $80 per household, totaling more than $500,000 annually. Additionally, a drop in tipping fees (from $94 per ton in 1994 to $50 per ton at the Onondaga County resource recovery facility) could account for as much as 20 percent of the town’s 2000 contract.
In addition to cost reduction, the program has met public expectations for cleanliness. Waste is collected on specific days, which means that garbage containers are placed curbside just one day per week in each neighborhood. (Residents also have the option of signing up for off-curb service.) Furthermore, the program has reduced the number of collection trucks traveling residential streets.
After residents had experienced the program changes for a year, they were surveyed again to gauge their reactions. Preliminary results indicate broad support, and DeWitt expects to continue the subscription service into 2001.
This article was written by Richard Robb, commissioner of development and operations for DeWitt.