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Gainesville scraps garbage plan for now
City Council requests alternative strategy study
Joan Alford demonstrates how her 48-gallon trash can fits through a gate in her yard. The city will study once-a-week back-door pickup after Gainesville residents complained about the proposed curbside trash pickup plan. - photo by Tom Reed

Gainesville City Council has trashed — at least for now — a plan to move to curbside pickup.

Instead, city officials say they want to study cutting residents’ current back-door service from twice to once a week.

At a work session Thursday morning, council members decided to conduct an eight-week study of once-a-week back-door pickup, beginning April 19.

The decision came after council members and city officials received a flood of e-mails and phone calls about a proposal the council had initially approved in March, Mayor Ruth Bruner said.

On March 16, the council voted 4-1 to cut trash service to a weekly curbside pickup and make city employees responsible for picking up residents’ recycling. The proposal was meant as a solution to trash collection rates that needed to be increased annually and to help the Solid Waste Division operate off of user fees instead of tax dollars.

The measure would have required a second vote to be final, which was expected Tuesday, April 6.

The item will still be on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting, but council members said they will vote to table it.

Bruner read a statement at Thursday’s work session addressing the attention the planned changes have garnered from residents.

“Trash service is one of the most essential services a government can provide,” Bruner said. “These past several weeks have demonstrated just how important this function really is and how much our citizens care about the way our city looks.”

Bruner said residents were afraid that city officials were planning to make changes to the trash service without residents’ input.

To address those concerns, Bruner proposed that city Solid Waste employees study cutting residents’ current service to a once-weekly service. No council members objected.

Bruner’s proposal was much like one made by Councilman Bob Hamrick, who voted against the original measure on March 16.

Hamrick suggested then that city change to a once-a-week back-door service to save money.

As proposed, the city would incur start-up costs of $425,000 to begin curbside pickup. The cost would include purchasing 96-gallon trash bins and 65-gallon recycling containers for city residents as well as special equipment for the city’s trucks to lift and dump the trash into the trucks.

Over time, though, officials said the city is expected to save about $300,000 and reduce the Solid Waste Division’s work force by four people.

Bruner’s suggestion Tuesday was that council members first try what Hamrick had originally suggested.

The study she proposed would begin with an eight-week pilot program that would begin April 19, and afterward the City Council would hold two public meetings in July to discuss the results, Bruner said. Throughout the study, residents’ recycling service will remain as it is.

Joan Alford, a Crestview Terrace resident, waited through the City Council work session to hear Bruner’s proposal.

And Alford, who said she wants to keep the city’s current trash service the same, wasn’t completely satisfied when she left.

“I appreciate the fact that they’ve listened to the citizens, but the more I learn about it, they aren’t doing some things right now that are already objectionable,” Alford said.

Alford said she did not think that the Solid Waste Division should have to stand on its own financially since it is a government service. Besides, she said, the city could make more money to support the service if it enforced the current rules on trash pickup.

City officials say they have recently stepped up efforts to enforce those rules.

“It’s not an easy answer. I certainly understand where they’re coming from, but I’m not sure the basic premises they’re going on are appropriate. And I don’t think they did anything to educate their public,” she said.

Still, Alford said she appreciated the city’s effort to listen to residents.

The study may make residents’ more comfortable with any changes to their trash service in the future, but the city’s superintendent of Solid Waste, Dan Owen, said the study will mean more work for Solid Waste employees.

Owen worries that if garbage waits outside for its once-weekly pickup, the plastic bags holding it will be worn down by weather and animals will scatter the trash looking for food.

“I see it being a mess,” Owen said.

Bobbett Holloway agrees with Owen. Holloway expressed how much she disapproved of the original curbside proposal at the March 16 meeting by dragging an unwilling 96-gallon trash cart across the room.

Since then, the Honeysuckle Road resident says she’s changed her mind.

“I have done a lot of research since that day I opened my mouth and put my foot in it,” Holloway said. “Yes, I pulled the trash can backwards that’s why it wouldn’t move — not because it was big.”

After March 16, Holloway spent a day helping the city’s Solid Waste employees pick up her fellow residents’ garbage.

And now she says the city “definitely” has to make some changes. Holloway said the city’s back-door service might not be able to survive those changes.

“It’s just too time-consuming and dangerous,” Holloway said. “... Most of the country is not doing backyard pickup anymore, and I think that’s why.”

While Holloway said the city Public Works Department’s original proposal to cut service to a once-weekly curbside pickup needs some tweaking — she suggests that the city give residents who use more trash the 96-gallon containers and give a smaller container to those who use less — she’s more inclined to support it now.

She likes the proposal’s emphasis on recycling, and said encouraging residents to recycle more is part of the solution to the city’s trash woes.

“It doesn’t take too much to understand when you fill up the landfills then where are you going to buy land to do another one? And how much is that going to cost?” Holloway said.

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