Bethlehem City Council gave mixed reviews to Mayor John Callahan’s plan to switch to a single municipal trash hauler during the first of four hearings to discuss the mayor’s proposed 2013 budget Monday night.
Council President Eric Evans said he is not sure that the remainder of 2012 is enough time to sufficiently debate and implement a new trash collection system in the city.
“I’m getting more comments on that than I’ve had on anything else since I’ve been on council these last couple of years,” Evans said.
Councilman Robert Donchez agreed that the issue might need more time to be hashed out. “I think it deserves a full debate and discussion,” he said.
But Councilwoman Karen Dolan saw it differently, noting that it has come up for discussion on numerous occasions over the years, but was never actually put to a council vote. “I would say we have debated and discussed this issue to death,” she said.
“I would have voted in favor of a single hauler system … if it had ever come before us for a vote,” Dolan said.
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Dolan argued that the multitude of garbage trucks that patrol the city streets not only increase air pollution, but also do additional damage to streets, curbs and light posts, which becomes a city expense.
Dolan also argued that council should be less concerned about 100 people who may come to a council meeting to complain about a trash hauling change than 70,000 city residents who will benefit from it.
"It's not our job to keep one particular group of small businesses in business," Dolan said.
At his initial budget presentation, Callahan said that a citizen satisfaction survey showed that 58 percent of Bethlehem residents would support switching to a single hauler system.
Garbage haulers have nonetheless proved to be a vocal and influential lobby at past council meetings and will likely be again when council more fully discusses the issue at its next budget hearing Nov. 27. It had initially been scheduled for discussion on Dec. 4, but a change to the budget deliberation schedule was announced Monday afternoon.
There was little public comment on the proposal Monday, outside of an impassioned plea from former city employee Dana Grubb to keep things as they are for the sake of elderly fixed-income residents who use the current system to save money by, for example, combining garbage with next door neighbors or relatives.
“The city should not be jumping into this and making a profit,” Grubb said.
Callahan is hoping the city can gain an additional $500,000 in revenue by hiring a single municipal hauler.
It was unclear how other council members felt about the proposal. Councilman David DiGiacinto was silent through the meeting. Councilwoman Jean Belinski was absent.
Councilmen J. William Reynolds and Michael Recchiuti both said that many difficult decisions would have to be made during this budget cycle.
“We’re going to have to make some unpopular decisions,” Reynolds said. “That’s leadership.”