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Callahan Draws Fire for Meetings on Trash Collection

Mayor says he wants discussions on garbage complaints; critics say he wants single hauler.

Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan drew fire Tuesday for asking members of City Council to meet with him individually to discuss the future of the city’s garbage collection.

Some of Bethlehem’s 18 licensed haulers are taking it as a sign that Callahan aims to hire a single garbage collector, doing away with years of tradition in which individual property owners hired their own garbage collectors.

Three Republican challengers for City Council seats, who held a news conference in front of Town Hall before Tuesday’s council meeting, were equally critical of the mayor’s approach to the discussion.

In an e-mail sent to the media and supporters, they called the private meetings “surreptitious and devious.”

“Private meetings avoid a quorum of the City Council, and thereby avoid the necessity of a public meeting, required by the Sunshine Law,” the e-mail said.

“You know it’s nonsense,” the mayor responded after Tuesday’s meeting. “For anyone to imagine that council doesn’t come to me as individuals with problems or questions or concerns about the city: It’s totally appropriate. There’s nothing secretive in any way about it.”

Callahan said he has brought the issue forward because he believes the city has a growing problem with trash and dumping.

The city’s Bureau of Health documented 1,279 complaints concerning garbage in 2010, said Joseph Kelly, the city’s director of community and economic development.

Michael Palos, the city’s chief housing inspector, said he responded to no less than 500 garbage complaints last year. Additionally, Callahan said, the city has five or six places that are “chronic illegal dumping locations.”

“I know the city is not as clean as it could be,” Callahan said during an interview. “I believe we can offer these services in a more effective and efficient way. And I’m trying to sit with individual council members to talk about the problem and then talk about what the potential solutions might be.”

The mayor said he had “no pre-conceived notion” about what the solution might entail, but he seemed to be making strong arguments for a single-hauler approach. For example, he said switching to a single-hauler would have a “significant impact” on illegal dumping and would make it easier to enforce city trash laws.

Conceivably, under the existing system, garbage can be collected on every city street on every day of the week by a diverse set of haulers, making it difficult for city officials to know whether trash has been sitting curbside for hours or days.

“Of the fifteen largest cities in the Commonwealth, there are only three that do not have private contract hauling, and we are by far the largest. The others are Altoona and Williamsport,” Callahan said.

The mayor said he also believes the city can negotiate lower garbage collection rates because it can negotiate on behalf of 75,000 residents.

The Republican council candidates, Tom Carroll, Al Bernotas and Tony Simeo, and one hauler said they believe Callahan is motivated by finances to change the city's trash hauling system. Moving to one contract hauler would allow the city to collect a fee that would generate new a stream of revenue to draw on, they theorized.

“We make a profit now, so why wouldn’t he like to take it over and make the profit?” said Andrew Prickler, owner of Andy’s Hauling and Waste Disposal.

After the council meeting, Prickler had some heated words for Callahan.

“Listen mayor, you’ve done nothing but lie to the public,” he said. “Own up to it.”

Callahan said he has no specific proposals on garbage collection. He said he is also willing to discuss a zoned hauling system, which would allow the private haulers to continue operating, but would limit collections to designated neighborhoods depending on the day of the week.

“I don’t have an opinion on it right now,” Callahan said. “I don’t know what the impacts would be to the city’s general fund. This is to me about delivering the services to the residents in a more effective and efficient way and likely for less. That’s my job as mayor.”

Staberdearth April 20, 2011 at 11:45 AM
Another tool who wishes to destroy free market choice! Callahan has got to go as does his bigger bro, the O! What an incompetent who revels in taking crecdit for things he has no business tasking credit for and stirring up trouble where none need exist!
jennifer p April 20, 2011 at 12:10 PM
I have lived here for nearly ten years and have always hoped for a single collector. It's a quality of life issue. I don't like having garbage trucks rolling down my street and garbage sitting on the curb every day of the week.
Jon Geeting April 20, 2011 at 02:07 PM
People realize that nobody benefits from this system except the trash companies right? Bethlehem residents pay more and get worse service. City council should ignore the garbage companies and contract with a single hauler.
Mary Anne Looby April 20, 2011 at 04:20 PM
I agree that there should be one contract with the city. Allentown has done it that way forever. It is part of the tax bill. I cannot say how it works now, but I lived in Allentown for 30 years and you knew when garbage night was. Having individual haulers makes for a dirty city. I agree with Jennifer, it is a quality of life issue. Who want garbage out every day and night and trucks rolling down the street at all hours. That really stinks! Glad I don't live in Bethlehen!
Bethlehem Watchdog April 20, 2011 at 10:11 PM
If the city is dirty we need the street sweepers (city operated) to do a better job. Enforce the laws that are already on the books. If the trucks make noise we need to get rid of school buses, bread delivery trucks, UPS, FedEx, and even the recycling trucks with their constant clanking of glass bottles. We should also make sure that we regulate the delivery trucks for Wawa, Domino's Pizza, Pizza Hut, Pappa John, Valley Farmer, Giant, Elias Market, Hess Gas, Exxon, Shell, and any other large trucks who make every day in this city delivery day! You see how rediculous that sounds? That's the point which is being made by the Mayor, he's already got it in his head that a single hauler system is what he wants and that is what will be pushed through without any public opinion being considered. This was very evident when I was told that one of the haulers stated, "if you try to push this through we'll fill this Town Hall to the doors" and the Mayor's reply was a cocky "Yeah? You go ahead and try that it won't get you anywhere."
Staberdearth April 21, 2011 at 10:20 AM
I don't know what neighborhood you live in but that has NEVER happened where I live in Betlum... Sounds like you doth exaggerate. We don't have garbage trucks rolling down our street every day and we don't have garbage sitting out every day of the week either. And...my rate is far less and more flexible than say the big haulers. I can just imagine what the city will charge to make up for all of its other shortfalls and do it poorly to boot! Callahan can stick it!
Staberdearth April 21, 2011 at 10:23 AM
WRONG! You're exagerrating! The rates one can find for haulers are competitive. Pay more and get worse service? Perhaps it is YOU who has chosen a poor hauler! I've had two haulers over the years and that changed over only when the first one retired from the business. Excellent service, excellent reasonable rates, flexibility in pickup, quiet, on time, and clean.
Mary Anne Looby April 21, 2011 at 12:04 PM
I think you may be on to something. If it can be mandated that haulers can only collect on a specifc day in a specifc area that would solve the problem of garbage being out on multiple days in the same neighborhood. I hate to keep citing Allentown as an example, and as I said I have not lived there inover 20 years, but our garbage was picked up two days a week, and once recyling came about, that was on a specifc one of the two, along with the trash. You were also not allowed to put your trash out before evening time. The trucks came through during the night, and for the most part were not even noticed. Don't know if individual haulers would go for it, but it seems like a win/win for everyone. Government stays out, trash is hauled in as unobtrusive manner as possible, everyone is satisfied.
Mike Jones April 21, 2011 at 12:55 PM
Take away the opinions of small trash haulers and their families and you are left with this fact- Most citizens only want all of their trash hauled away at a reasonable cost to them. The current system is archaic and if it's broken, the proper fix would be to contract it out and control it. On the matter of illegal dumping, I say, catch and prosecute the offenders. We have cameras everywhere...why not post a camera in a dumping area? I guarantee that a few well-publicized pinches will discourage most dumpers. Be aware that all dumping will never be eliminated though. Some people are crtins.
Mike Jones April 21, 2011 at 12:56 PM
...make that "cretins".
Dana Grubb April 21, 2011 at 01:04 PM
Daryl, While I was with the City of Bethlehem, we were working on a plan to zone the city so that residential trash could be picked up on specific days, only placed out so many hours prior to collection, and that would maintain the independent hauler system that most Bethlehem residents prefer. Recycling director Tom Marshall, environmental health supervisor Harvey Joseph and I were coordinating the effort internally. I think the important difference between then and now is that we INCLUDED the haulers in our discussions and they had a number of good ideas as well as they had a much greater understanding of the nuances of solid waste collection. As city officials we felt very strongly that if we were to be successful at having a more efficient independent hauling system, and be better able to enforce city ordinances, some changes were necessary. But, at no time were we pushing a single hauler for the city. Sure there are a lot of complaints, but in which section of the city are they most prevalent, are they generated at owner-occupied residences or rental units, are they landlord or tenant issues, etc?
Dana Grubb April 21, 2011 at 01:06 PM
The haulers were requesting expanded hours due to the reconfiguring of their existing routes, and many were interested in curbside collection, which can be a very touchy issue for residents in some neighborhoods, but which also would allow speedier collection particularly on busier roads such as a Wyandotte Street or Broad Street as examples. I agree with one hauler who said that the city administration should be meeting with the haulers and not City Council. You need to have a plan first and then you take it to Council. The mayor admits that he doesn't and it's up to him to develop any proposals and then submit them to Council. It appears that this is being addressed in ass backwards approach.
Jon Geeting April 21, 2011 at 01:39 PM
Imagine the garbage truck traffic you'd see in neighborhoods if there were only a few days haulers could pick up trash. It would be mayhem. Let residents take advantage of the economy of scale. Every other city realizes that this is a service best provided by a regulated monopoly. There is an economy of scale to trash collection. Everybody else pays less than Bethlehem residents do for trash and they get better service. It's the clearest example of market failure you could ask for. Here is a good paper on the economics of trash collection. Pages 46-49 are most relevant to this issue. http://bit.ly/ezQ5wF
Dana Grubb April 21, 2011 at 03:26 PM
Jon, Actually traffic probably wouldn't be that bad in most neighborhoods because individual haulers seem to have their customer bases consolidated in different areas of the city. I'm not saying it wouldn't in some areas, but I believe that the answer would be that it generally isn't a congestion problem.
Yvonne Plakotaris April 21, 2011 at 07:56 PM
Citzens of Bethlehem, You have multiple restaurants in the city to choose from, multiple fuel oil delivery companies to choose from, several breweries and coffee shops to pick from. They all make noise, they smell and they make garbage, yet your multiple haulers that pick up this waste are an inconvenience, noise pollutants, troublesome eyesores? Think about that. Why is it ok to have those choices and support those local businesses but the local trash hauler doesn't deserve the same support? Is Waste Management local? Heck no. Is Raritan Valley local, heck no. Only corporate haulers can bond for large contracts. Just because other cities regulate their residents choices doesn't make it correct. Single hauler systems benefit the single hauler. PS Who do you think created the whole idea?
Jon Geeting April 21, 2011 at 08:02 PM
The local trash haulers don't deserve the same support because they're doing a bad job. They do a worse job and they're more expensive because none of them can take advantage of the economy of scale. Comparing the market for waste to other consumer goods markets is a category error.
Yvonne Plakotaris April 21, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Doing a bad job? Please explain. More expensive than what? $3.00 a bag? Please explain to the senior citizen who currently contracts for $3.00 per week how that is more expensive than the flat contracted rate will be for ALL residents would be.
Mary Anne Looby April 21, 2011 at 09:46 PM
This is obviously a very hot topic for Bethlehem. Maybe it should be taken out of the hands of government and put in the hands of the residents. Why not have it on the ballot at your next election?
Bethlehem Watchdog April 21, 2011 at 11:07 PM
Miss Yvonne, You shouldn't waste your time with Mr. Geeting. He's of the belief that anything the Mayor does is golden and should never be questioned. I'm sure you witnessed as did many others how the editor of this "news" media attacked the candidates and their defense of open dialogue. As I've always stated in my comments I could care less if you have an R or a D on your voter registration card, what I care about is who is watching for the best interest of the residents. Regardless of the love fest that is evident between the Mayor and the Bethlehem Patch the issue remains that the Mayor is wrong on this one and the current City Council is not standing up to him.
Carl April 22, 2011 at 11:06 AM
The author of the book you reference clearly states that the right choice is not set in stone.
Dixie Dugan White November 09, 2011 at 08:33 AM
Whether it's one or many haulers, encourage recycling by making EVERYONE pay by the bag. I've been doing that for 21 years. As recycling expanded, my garbage decreased. I recycle glass, plastics,metal, junk mail, office paper, newspaper & cardboard. Vegetable waste, leaves, eggshells & coffee grounds go into my compost bins (my garden loves it!). Plastic bags go back to the grocery store. Bags of garden waste & branches go to the City Compost Center. What's left? Meat, fish & dairy scraps, just one bag every three weeks. My neighbors across the street put out 3 to 7 bags every week, per house. Why should I pay for their failure to recycle? If every household pre-purchased stickers and paid by the bag, recycling would increase, waste would decrease. Dixie Dugan White

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