Gainesville will not likely change to a curbside garbage pickup service, officials said following Thursday’s public meeting about solid waste services in the city.
Though the Public Works Department proposed an ordinance change in March that would allow trash collection services to go from twice-a-week back-door pickup to once-a-week curbside collection, residents attending the meeting wanted to maintain twice-a-week service — even if that would result in a fee increase.
“I think that the people here tonight were pretty much willing to pay an extra fee for a service that they think is good and important,” Mayor Ruth Bruner said after the meeting at the Georgia Mountains Center.
Bruner said she did not think the city would adopt the original curbside proposal, though she could not yet be sure.
Angela Sheppard, assistant city manager, said the city needed to change its solid waste service because of budget shortfalls. The general tax fund has been supplementing the shortfalls in the solid waste fund, but the city does not want that to continue.
One solution was explored with a pilot program switching the city’s trash service to once-weekly back door pickup. The results were revealed at the meeting.
The eight-week program saved a combined total of 48 labor hours per week, but that would not be enough to eliminate a crew member’s position. In gas costs, the program saved 12 cents per month for residents.
The negative response to the pilot program in the community was extreme.
Over the pilot’s span, solid waste officials fielded nearly 600 negative phone calls, a more than 3,000 percent increase from that same eight-week period last year.
Councilman George Wangemann also believed the council would opt to maintain the current twice-a-week back-door plan.
“My guess is that we’ll retain the same level of service and raise the fee a bit,” he said.
Residents pay $25.10 per month for their solid waste services. To keep the same level of service — and keep the service within the city’s purview — residents would need to pay between $4 and $6 more.
“I’m willing to pay a lot more,” said resident Joan Alford. “I don’t know that every citizen in Gainesville can do that.”
Bruner had a similar statement.
“The people at this meeting were middle class or upper middle class and are able to pay a higher fee,” she said. “They don’t want to pay more than they have to, but there probably are a lot of people in town that we aren’t hearing from that are very limited in their income.”
Another option for trash service would be to privatize the service instead of leaving it in the hands of the city. If this were the case, fee increases would range from $2 to $14 each month.
Those in attendance at the meeting largely expressed interest in keeping the service within the city, not placing it into the hands of the private sector.
“That was very clear,” Bruner said. “And we hadn’t heard that so clearly before.”
Amy Phillips of Riverside Drive was one resident who supported keeping solid waste services within the city. She said she had issues in the past with her recycling service, which is operated through a private company.
“I can assure you that if the city of Gainesville were responsible for it, they would have done a better job,” she said. “Our solid waste employees do a great job. I do not want to see this privatized.”
Sheppard said that under the modified proposal to keep twice-a-week services within the city, recycling services would be taken under the city’s control.
Alford also thought trash pickup should remain a city operation.
“I would prefer to see whatever you can do kept within the city because I think you have more control over it,” she said. “I also would like to see that whatever changes need to be made, or are made, that you’re not just creating a bigger problem.”
For Wangemann, hearing these and other opinions was valuable and important.
“Council’s going to responsive, sensitive, to the needs of the citizens of Gainesville and do what the majority want us to do,” he said.