City Council tonight will discuss a proposal to institute a single-hauler residential trash collection system, a decision that could end Bethlehem’s longstanding and entrenched practice of requiring residents to hire their own refuse collectors.
Private haulers and Callahan administration officials who stand on opposite sides of this issue both continued to wage public relations campaigns Monday.
Community and Economic Development Director Joe Kelly attended a Neighborhood Watch meeting at Church of the Manger in West Bethlehem to talk about the proposal.
A few hours earlier, about two-dozen people – a mix of haulers, family members and supporters – came to Payrow Plaza to defend the city’s existing trash collection system and to oppose the administration’s proposal.
The proposal details, according to the administration:
- The new cost would be no more than $300 per household, which includes the current $60 a year residents currently pay for recycling. That represents an average savings of $110 per household in the city. City officials have estimated that the average cost of private garbage collection in Bethlehem is currently $350, not including the city recycling fee.
- The garbage cost is based in part on a tipping fee that the city has already bid. The new collector would not be bid out after the middle of 2013 and the new system would not take effect until October, which is when the city’s current recycling contract expires.
- In a new contract, the hauler, in addition to collecting garbage, would be collecting recycling and yard waste on alternating weeks as well as bulk items, freon items, grass and Christmas trees.
- The city would keep roughly $500,000 of the garbage fee proceeds to help pay for the growing costs of maintaining its recycling programs, including the Theis/Cornfeld Center and free shredding. Without a garbage fee, the recycling programs currently represent a $540,000 hole in the budget.
Andy Pirckler of Andy’s Hauling and Waste Disposal urged supporters of the current system to turn out for tonight’s City Council budget hearing at 6 in Town Hall and show support.
Haulers at the protest insisted that their services are superior to a single hauler because they can offer greater flexibility in pricing, giving breaks to people who put out fewer bags, including the elderly.
“We have the best garbage collection system in the world,” Pirckler insisted.
Mayor John Callahan doesn’t think so, backing his assertion with statistics from the city’s non-emergency complaint tracking system, which showed that garbage-related complaints were the most common in Bethlehem in 2011.
There were 809 garbage complaints in the city last year – 50 percent more than complaints about streetlights and double the number of complaints about overgrown grass and weeds.
Callahan also cites a city-commissioned citizen satisfaction survey done by the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion that showed more than half of city residents think the city’s garbage collection system could use some improvement.
The survey asked if residents would be supportive of a switch to a single-hauler system if costs are reduced and service improved and 65 percent of them said they would.
“If the results were different, I wouldn’t have moved forward with the plan,” Callahan said Monday. “I think it’s an inefficient system.”
The current system encourages illegal dumping and is more expensive than it needs to be for most Bethlehem residents, the mayor said.
Despite the criticisms leveled in the survey, the survey also shows that 58 percent of city residents rate their garbage collection as good or excellent, while 30 percent rate it as fair or poor.
However, private garbage collection critics could also point out that the city’s recycling collection, which relies on a contracted single hauler, is even more popular, with 83 percent rating that service as good or excellent and 16 percent rating it fair or poor.
The survey, taken in July 2011, relied on responses from 1,573 Bethlehem residents and had a margin of error of 3 percent.