As you may have read recently, City Council has been discussing our contract with Waste Connections, the company that has provided your weekly trash pick-up service since 2002. Though their contract still has five years remaining, the company asked council to consider waiving the competitive bid process to give them an additional five years.
When asked about participation levels of the services they provide, Waste Connections responded that it was not possible to ascertain those figures. Given the financial stakes, I solicited feedback from the public to obtain some idea for myself. Using social media, I took an informal poll to which roughly 400 people responded.
Other than to report that, overall, most respondents were very pleased with the quality of services they receive from Waste Connections, I hesitated to share my interpretation of the results given that they are not scientific. However, the responses were highly informative and revealed that many Oak Ridgers are unaware of all the services for which they are paying.
Many also underestimate their total costs for these services. The $10.50 per month on your utility bill only covers part of the bill, the rest is covered by your property taxes. The matter is complicated by the fact that businesses are subsidizing residential collection by paying higher taxes for services they do not receive. But for simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the FY16 budget figures which estimate the contract at $2.8 million and divide by the city manager’s figure of 11,964 households paying for services. This brings the total cost per household to $19.81 per month. That $19.81 pays for all of the following services, including waste disposal, which are available to most households excluding apartment residents:
- Backdoor Pick-Up: 55% of respondents take advantage of backdoor pick-up service. Many expressed strong desires to retain this service, including some who opt to take their trash to the curb. This is a fairly common service offered throughout East TN by many other companies besides Waste Connections.
- Annual brush and leaf pick-up: 55-57% of respondents use the annual brush and leaf pick-up services. Those not using these services cite a preference for mulching or a desire not to wait so long into the season for pick up.
- Recycling: 93% of respondents recycle. All must take their bins to the curb as backdoor pick-up is not an option under the current contract. Though recycling was available under the original contract, in 2009, $2 was added to your bill to cover the Recycle Bank program which allowed for scannable bins and rewards. Though discontinued a few years ago, the city did not remove that $2 from your bill.
- Daily access to the convenience center: 63% of respondents use the convenience center at least once per year with many using it much more frequently.
- Annual household trash pick-up: I overlooked this service and did not solicit a response. Details regarding this and all solid waste services are found here.
Comments made by Waste Connections raised some concerns that these services were in jeopardy. I assure you, they are not. The city has complete control over the specifications of the request for bids and can (and should) include all of our current services when the time comes to re-bid.
Fortunately, we have five years to ensure we get the best possible service at the best possible price. Waste management is a very lucrative and competitive industry. To date, we’ve awarded this one company over $48,000,000 and the way their contract is written, annual increases average around $100,000. So, when we do re-bid, it is reasonable to expect the same services for at least a flat amount given the number of new companies that have entered the market since our contract was last bid out 20 years ago. Heck, we may even have a reason to be optimistic and expect a decrease in costs considering improved technologies and falling fuel prices!
Again, though I attempted to weed out duplicate responses, these results are by no means a complete representation of the households that use these services. You can view the responses for yourself and even add your own comments on the following Facebook pages: Happening Now in Oak Ridge City Council & School Leadership, Oak Ridge Live 24/7, What’s Happening Now In-n-Around Oak Ridge, Oak Ridge Lite & Easy, Oak Ridge Neighbors for Growth, Oak Ridge Raw, and Trina Baughn – Oak Ridge City Council Member. I greatly appreciate all of the responses I’ve received thus far and always welcome public input on public matters.