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City trash service may change to cut costs
Budget could affect Gainesville garbage pickup
Gainesville city employee Binh Truong Tuesday tosses bags of trash in to the truck along College Avenue. - photo by Tom Reed

Gainesville residents may soon lose their twice-weekly trash pickup.

The city’s Public Works director, David Dockery, will on Thursday propose that the City Council authorize reducing residents’ trash service to a once-a-week pickup schedule.

Other changes Dockery will propose include requiring most residents to take their garbage to the curb in a city-provided receptacle and bringing city residents’ recycling service in-house.

The proposed changes, if approved by the council, will make Gainesville’s trash collection service much like “the way most cities do it,” Dockery said.

The city’s longtime back-door trash service is a “rarity,” and one that the current economic situation does not afford, Dockery said.

The changes, while possibly requiring some up-front investment, are Dockery’s proposal to cut spending in a trying budget year.

Dockery was charged by the city manager’s office and the City Council to “basically find a way to let solid waste pay their own way.”

While the proposal will require purchasing trash receptacles for city residents, Dockery said he expects the plan to save the city about $300,000 per year — enough for the solid waste division to stand on its own without help from general fund tax dollars.

Part of those savings will be a reduction in staff, though Dockery said that does not necessarily mean employees will be laid off.

With once-weekly curbside collection, Dockery said the city can use fewer trucks and fewer crews to collect solid waste. If approved by the council, the city could use the extra trucks to pick up residents’ recyclables, a service for which the city has paid a private company about $200,000 a year. The proposed changes would mean residents’ recyclables and their garbage would be picked up on the same day.

Dockery said he is hopeful the four solid waste employees can be moved to other positions in the city.

“We’re hopeful that we can do it in such a way that no one loses a job,” he said.

The proposal is the culmination of six months of evaluating different ways the city could wean its solid waste operation off of property and sales tax revenues, Dockery said. And with city revenues from sales tax at a low, Dockery had to consider other ways to eliminate the division’s reliance on those dollars.

Last year, City Council raised monthly collection fees to make the division more autonomous. But Dockery said Tuesday the revenues from the higher fees only helped the division pay fees at the landfill. His most recent proposal does not affect user fees.

“We’ve considered privatization and combinations of public-private partnerships to do various things; but in the end, we’ve come down on keeping it in-house at a reduced level of service,” Dockery said.

However, if the council gives his proposal the go-ahead, Dockery said the city will still provide a medical waiver that will allow residents who are not physically able to roll their trash to the curb to still have back-door service.

“This is the way that most municipalities collect garbage,” Dockery said. “The back-door pickup is a rarity, and fortunately we’ve been able to provide that to our residents. But considering the economic crunch we’re all in right now, we just don’t feel it’s feasible to continue to do that.”

The City Council will discuss the issue at its work session at 9 a.m. Thursday, but Mayor Ruth Bruner said the change likely will be unavoidable. She said the change will reduce service costs and city liability.

“I’ve loved the twice a week backyard pickup; I’ve had it for myself for 35 years. I love it, but I think that’s just going to have to come to an end,” Bruner said. “... We all hate change and we hate to see a great thing end. It’s almost unheard of in the country to have twice-a-week backyard pickup, and I think it’s just got back to the end of its time.”