County commissioners have tossed out a proposal to reduce trash collection from twice a week to once a week after hundreds of residents emailed and called them strongly urging, if not downright demanding, the service remain the same.
Solid Waste Authority staff had previously recommended the once-a-week service as a way to “soften” an increase in hauling rates, for the upcoming seven-year contract that starts in October 2019. The SWA has seen increases in contracts across the state, said spokesman Willie Puz.
If trash collection went to one day a week, however, the cost of the service would be about 15 to 22 percent less expensive than two-day pickup, SWA staff said. But a change to once a week might not have even lowered residents’ rates from what they are now, staff acknowledged, because of other driving forces such as a shortage of drivers, higher fuel and steel prices and increased truck operating and maintenance costs.
What appeared as the most convincing argument at Wednesday’s SWA meeting to keep service as is came from a resident attempting to entertain her toddler during the discussion. The woman caught Mayor Melissa McKinlay’s attention, and once at the microphone, she reminded the officials of the dirty-diaper stench, and how the smell would linger with one-day collection. The crowd cheered her on.
“I heard loud and clear from my constituents … And yes, I completely forgot how bad diapers smell,” McKinlay said. “She sealed my support.”
Vice Mayor Mack Bernard said he, too, is familiar with that smell, as one of his children still wears diapers at night.
Commissioners Mary Lou Berger and Dave Kerner had already hinted they’d be voting against the proposal.
Commissioner Paulette Burdick was the sole vote in favor of the proposal, saying residents are concerned about more expensive bills.
The commissioners also voted at the meeting for the contract to change collection from manual to semiautomated/automated, a move that several municipalities in the county have already made. Also, while the garbage haulers wanted to work only five days a week, commissioners voted for six. And while staff proposed a decrease in the amount of yard waste picked up weekly from six cubic yards to three, commissioners voted that down.
With the semiautomated/automated service, residents will have to use a new garbage can that can be either 48, 65 or 96 gallons. No matter the size, the container will cost residents $2.10 per month as part of an administrative fee, SWA staff said. That came as news to the commissioners, who said they were under the impression the first trash can would be free for the public.
Residents likely won’t know for a while how much their bill will change, as companies have to first bid on the new contract.
The hauling companies said nixing Saturday pickup would allow for employees to spend more time with their families. They said they have trouble attracting workers because of the six-day work week. And having automated and semi-automated trucks would improve safety and diversify hires because the jobs wouldn’t be as physically demanding as they are now, the haulers said.
The SWA originally presented the collection options to county commissioners at the July board meeting amid a discussion on new standards to increase the number of solid waste contracts awarded to firms owned by women and minorities.
But it was the proposed change to once-a-week trash collection that garnered the most spirited response from the public.
The Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations, which represents more than 100 communities, voted in opposition to the changes at their meeting earlier this month. The coalition printed hundreds of emails from residents in opposition to once-a-week collection and handed the stacks to Berger and Kerner.
But it wasn’t only the COBWRA residents who had such a strong reaction.
“We haven’t seen an outcry like this in many, many years,” Bob Schulbaum, president of the Alliance of Delray Residential Associations Inc., told the commissioners.