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Opponents of Single Trash Hauler Pack Town Hall

Independent trash haulers, loyal customers speak out in opposition to administration's plan to hire one trash hauler for Bethlehem. Council seems likely to kill proposal.

 

Bethlehem City Council appears likely to kill Mayor John Callahan’s proposal to switch to a single-hauler system of garbage collection.

Though no official vote was taken during a marathon seven-hour City Council budget hearing that began Tuesday night and stretched into early this morning, four out of seven council members appeared to be opposed to the plan.

An overwhelming majority of those who attended the hearing also appeared to be opposed to the change. Twenty-nine of them got up to address City Council and only two of them expressed support for single-hauler trash collection.

A tense, standing-room-only crowd – most of them there to talk about or hear the discussion about garbage collection – spilled out through the doorways of the Town Hall rotunda at the start of the meeting.

But the crowd would have to wait for council to get to the trash discussion. For the first three hours, council heard from and discussed city emergency services departments – fire, emergency medical services and police.

Included in that discussion was the city’s 911 emergency call center, for which Callahan has proposed a new dedicated .76-mill tax to support. That accounts for 60 percent of the mayor’s proposed 8½ percent real estate tax increase.

Even after the trash discussion began, the impatience among some audience members boiled over while council discussed the proposal with members of the administration.

“Some of us have to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning,” said one trash hauler who kept trying to interrupt the discussion, but was asked by Council President Eric Evans to stay seated and be quiet.

“We’ve had a 50 percent attrition rate [since the start of the meeting] and I don’t think that’s a good model for participatory democracy,” said Al Wirth, a Lehigh University politics professor and a member of the Sierra Club who said he opposed single hauler for environmental reasons.

Many of those who spoke out against single-hauler collection were the owners of small hauling companies currently licensed to serve clients in Bethlehem who feared they would not be able to stay in business if single hauler is initiated.

Many were customers who said they preferred to have a choice of collectors that gives them the option of paying less for putting out less garbage and providing a higher quality of service than they believe they would get with a single city-contracted hauler.

Currently, city residents are required to hire their own trash collector, making Bethlehem the largest city in Pennsylvania without single-hauler trash collection.

City officials argued that the lack of a single hauler has led to illegal dumping on empty lots and out-of-the-way corners of the city.

At one point, administration officials showed a slide show that depicted trashed front yards, empty lots and sidewalks, while acting Health Director Kristen Wenrich talked about the prevalence of garbage complaints that come through her office.

She estimated that the equivalent of one full-time department employee deals with garbage complaints continually.

Wenrich and Mike Palos, the city’s chief housing inspector, held out single hauler as the solution to the illegal dumping problem. In hundreds of cases where a home has been trashed, the resident’s lack of a trash hauler has been the reason, officials said.

“This is a difficult decision you are going to have to make if you want to improve the quality of life in Bethlehem,” Palos told council. “It’s not the haulers. It’s the system. Our system isn’t working.”

A majority of council members appeared unmoved by the argument, however.

Evans said he has never received such a negative reaction out in the community for any proposal. Councilman Robert Donchez said he thought single hauler needed more debate and discussion.

Councilwoman Jean Belinski said her father was an independent trash hauler and that she favored keeping the existing system. Councilman David DiGiacinto also seemed to be in opposition to the administration’s plan.

Concerned citizen November 28, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Mayor Callahan just wants to see all of us homeless and broke, first my taxes go up 160.00 a month then my garbage will increase. Maybe he should've though of the budget when he spent so much for the star in the middle of Main Street! Let's get our priorities straight
Dana Grubb November 28, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Priorities in Bethlehem do seem out of sync at times. That being said, this debate should have been entirely separate from the budget process and still could be. Al Council would have to do is vote down both the revenue of $500,000 AND the corresponding $500,000 in recycling expenses that this purported to support. That's if this is the real reason the $500,000 is budgeted and the why the administration really wants to go to a single hauler. The problem is that little coming out of the Callahan administration is believable anymore. He's lost the public's trust long ago with the fiscal mismanagement of city government and the lies and illegal behavior associated with over $14 million in deficits from 2008 to 2010. He promised he would be looking at using the casino host fee to reduce property taxes in 2013. He wants to raise your property taxes on top of having many pay more for trash collection. Now this single hauler proposal is based on estimates, suppositions and maybe some wishful thinking. Several residents and haulers expressed it very well when they said that with the private haulers you buy a service. That boils down to the real difference between a single contracted by the city trash hauler and the existing system of independent haulers.
Jim Gregory November 28, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Council is smart enough to see the writing on the wall. The citizens of Bethlehem do not want a single hauler..They want choice, I want choice and we'll gladly pay the extra $10 a month for that choice.
Staberdearth November 28, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Grubb sums it up best, little, if anything, coming out of Callahan's puppetized and quite incompetent mouth is believable these days. I place little faith in most of council members as well. Most have ZERO experience in the private sector. Be very afraid when someone gets into office after climbing out of the ranks of academia! Yet, here we are, in Betlum...we actually vote for these dreamer utopian types who have never lived in the real world. Academia is NOT THE REAL WORLD!
Staberdearth November 28, 2012 at 02:48 PM
A FEW IN COUNCIL MAY BE SMART ENOUGH... PERHAPS NOT ENOUGH OF THEM!
Ruby Montana November 28, 2012 at 03:25 PM
The idea of raising taxes to pay for trash removal that I, as a homeowner, ALREADY pay for is an insult to my intelligence. That is just moving my money around. The long and short of it is, Bethlehem needs money. May I suggest they leave trash hauling out of it and find a way to surcharge us all for their shortfall instead of hitting just the homeowner, once again.
logansteele November 28, 2012 at 03:55 PM
I have to agree. We've been down this road before and from all I've read nothing about the single hauler system being proposed has changed. It should not be adopted.
logansteele November 28, 2012 at 03:58 PM
No, it's not. Take it from one who did academia and then did the real world. Theory is great, but organic things don't always play by the book's rules.
logansteele November 28, 2012 at 04:03 PM
It sounds to me as though the illegal trash problem in Beth. isn't the hauler or the system. It's people who don't want to pay for services. What in the world makes the city think if a property owner isn't going to pay for private hauling they are going to jump to pay for public hauling? If that bill isn't paid will the trash still be picked up? Am I supposed to pay for myself AND others who choose not to? It's time for the city to put on some rubber gloves, a mask and go through some of that dumped trash then impose and enforce fines that cost the same as paying for an average year of trash removal.
logansteele November 28, 2012 at 04:03 PM
So true. This is really just a property tax increase in service provision clothing.
logansteele November 28, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Indeed. I am a better steward of my money than govt. I'll make my own choices and negotiate my own terms when it comes to trash...and many other things.
logansteele November 28, 2012 at 04:11 PM
It's interesting to watch govt. try to dissuade the public from having a voice. Mr. Wirth was correct in his statement about residents having to leave before speaking. But this is nothing new. Pushing such discussion to the end of the meetings hoping that the opposition will give up and go away is not unusual and can be used so the record reflects less push back. If you can't attend meetings and wait all night, send letters, emails and make phone calls. Those must be counted also.
Jim Gregory November 28, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Donchez and Evans are absolutely correct. People generally like their haulers and are happy with their service. Also, as DiGiancinto surmised, there is nothing stopping them from raising the fee in the future to fund other general fund needs or whatever. Reynolds is correct also..This should have been planned and addressed at another time. It should not be a last minute issue tied to budget deliberations. Hopefully they will all stick to their guns on this issue..
Kathy Chapman November 28, 2012 at 04:32 PM
No Rudy, I have been reviewing the City budget, anyone can print out online. It is 322 pages. The items listed, and the fuzzy math are meant to confuse people, at quick glance. Aply named, CITY Council is paid for and work FOR the City. It is not named MAYOR Council. Therefore, City Council is our "line of defense". Each councilperson has an email address.- JBelinski@bethlehem-pa.gov David T. DiGiacinto - Biography - dDiGiacinto@bethlehem-pa.gov Karen D. Dolan - BIOGRAPHY - KDolan@bethlehem-pa.gov Robert J. Donchez - BIOGRAPHY - RDonchez@bethlehem-pa.gov Eric R. Evans - Biography - eevans@bethlehem-pa.gov Michael D. Recchiuti - Biography - MRecchiuti@bethlehem-pa.gov J. William Reynolds BIOGRAPHY - JReynolds@bethlehem-pa.gov The claim is that a single hauler would REDUCE my trash hauling bill. I know better, it won't. Having a SINGLE hauler would mean if there was just one issue, it would effect all the pick ups....equipment failure, contract dispute, labor challenges....NO when I have a pertinent question and call my service provider...a PLEASANT human answers the phone, she knows her customers, knows her business, thru experience, and I get REAL answers, and intelligent conversation. Something money CAN'T buy!!! I also can guarantee the City CANNOT get my trash bill any lower than exists, for me.....
Dana Grubb November 28, 2012 at 04:43 PM
The success of Bethlehem's recycling program also works against the single hauler system. With residents embracing recycling the way they have, their waste stream has shrunk, thereby making the per bag deals that independent haulers can offer very attractive. Many residents generate less trash and should pay less for waste collection as a result. The single hauler system works in the opposite direction by rewarding those who still generate a lot of trash and penalizing those who don't. One size doesn't fit all in Bethlehem. The history and traditions of, as well as the flexibility offered by, the independent hauler system provide part of what is the community's fabric. That makes it a quality of life issue which helps to keep Bethlehem such a favorable place to live.
Ruby Montana November 28, 2012 at 04:57 PM
I agree. I have sent letters to City Hall, Council and have requested to be part of any contract negotiations that are written for single-payer hauling. I also have asked for and received the opportunity to look at that complaint list. My guess is, if I correlate the addresses to the complaints, most might lead to Lehigh or Moravian areas. A "student" problem rather than a trash problem. They expect the crowds. They say they are all haulers. But they cannot deny what a resident writes.
Ruby Montana November 28, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I have sent two letters on this matter to each one of them and to City Hall. I have also started a dialogue with Thomas Marshall of Recycling, who those at City Hall seem to think, is the "point" man for hauling contracts. Also, a good move is to contact your individual hauler. I have. There is a wealth of information from them. I have asked to be kept in the loop. I fought this proposal 20 years ago and we, the residents won. I intend to fight again. Good luck to us all!
Ruby Montana November 28, 2012 at 05:04 PM
The one size fits all approach may be the very worst of it all. The city of Bethlehem telling ME what is best for MY budget (when they can't manage their own) is the biggest insult of all.
Dana Grubb November 28, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Kathy, the 2013 budget has more holes than just the single hauler revenue. The mayor has included $1 million for PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) which is based on voluntary contributions from institutions such as Lehigh Moravian, NCC, LV Hospital and St. Luke's. Although it's a fair thing to pursue, none of them have committed to it. There is another $500,000 contribution from the Parking Authority, but nobody knows if they can pay it. There is the Amusement Tax proposed at 5% on event ticket sales budgeted at $600,000, but the Sands Event Center has pushed back on that one and I hear a compromise may be in order. And there is an $879,000 transfer from the Water Fund which some are questioning how that can be afforded. Factor in new full-time positions (despite the position cuts touted); money wasted on gasoline for employees to commute to/from work in taxpayer funded city vehicles; money allocated to the CI (continuous improvement) program-a pet project of the mayor's that diverts countless staff hours from their actual duties; and non-union positions funded that city employees have described to me as "hall-walkers," and there could still be some significant savings gotten out of the budget. Check out pages 4,5 and 6 of the budget for the revenue sources. Review the personnel shown in each bureau/department budgets for the added positions and those cut.
Dana Grubb November 28, 2012 at 05:20 PM
You and me both, Jim. Jean Belinski and Dave are there as well. It's very disconcerting that Reynolds and Recchuiti pledged loyalty to the independent hauler system during their recent election campaigns and now seem to be waffling. Karen Dolan doesn't seem ready to move away from the proposed single hauler system, although at least two of the independents told her last night that she should have called them for their $3/bag service, after she spoke briefly about her family trash collection needs.
Tom Bennett November 28, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Good idea . What would be the problem with having a special one time per capita tax or double or triple the current one just once . If you live in the city everyone should have some skin in the game .
Jim Reighty November 28, 2012 at 07:22 PM
This seems to me to be an issue where I disagree with the majority here. I think single hauler would be fantastic for the City. I have trucks up and down my alley everyday. I have garbage day everyday in my neighborhood. Single Hauler would stop that. It would also be cheaper. I pay about 360 per year for trash. Plus we pay 60 for recycling in the water bill. Even Allentown which has twice a week service is cheaper than I pay. I only met two of these guys on council. Donchez was a nice guy. I voted for him, and will vote for him for Mayor, but disagree with him here. I also met the new guy, Reschuti. He came to my house last year while campaigning. He was very knowledgeable on the issues. We did discuss trash. He did not seem to commit one way or the other, but did say he liked zoned hauling as way to control the number of days trash trucks were in my neighborhood.
Jim Reighty November 28, 2012 at 07:26 PM
"pledged loyalty"---what does that mean? Did they sign an oath? The only people they should be loyal to are the taxpayers. I want my representatives looking out for the majority of the citizens. I would imagine that most people will save money under single hauler. I had single hauler before I moved here, and it was so much cheaper and more efficient.
Dana Grubb November 28, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Jim Reighty: Both as candidates (along with Bob Donchez and the three opposing candidates) publicly stated that they were definitely in favor of the independent hauler trash collection system, and they did it more than once at candidate forums. As far as who would benefit and who would be hurt by a single hauler system, I don't think anyone really knows what deals residents currently have in place with their private haulers. It is also very possible that the majority of taxpayers also benefit by having the current system remain in place. Certainly, when combined with the proposed property tax increase any increase in single hauler trash collection costs just to bolster the city's budget, could drive people on limited or fixed incomes out of their homes. That would be wrong and not beneficial to the city.
Dana Grubb November 28, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Jim, zoned collection may be a compromise that would limit collection by private haulers to specific days in specific areas of the city.It does have some merit. Council reviewed a proposal from the city administration in around 2006, had a lot of questions, and tabled the proposal hoping to get answers. To my knowledge those answers were never received.
Ruby Montana November 29, 2012 at 01:04 AM
With a single hauler we lose all choice and all control. That's fine for city property. It's not fine for mine.
Ruby Montana November 29, 2012 at 01:32 AM
The thing is, Jim, cheaper for who? The City has no idea what anyone pays. And let's not forget, prices go up. You can negotiate that with your own hauler. But the most uncomfortable thing is that the city is using this issue to fill a $500,000.00 gap in the budget. Now how does that work? They take away your trash hauler, raise your taxes and then what? Pay a dirt cheap price to a contract hauler and pocket the difference? Combining these two issues (trash and budget) is what makes my hair stand up!
logansteele November 29, 2012 at 02:23 AM
With all due respect, Jim R., I have lived here most of my life and our independent haulers are worth more than any savings the city may offer us for one year. The city wants to vote on this and they don't even have a contract formulated to offer for bids. This is a power grab to have a method to increase fees to fund holes in the city budget. The admin. isn't planning this for the benefit of the residents because we have always indicated a desire to stay with the independent system. This is a way generate more revenue and will become a monster. If I remember correctly the reason individual haulers weren't allowed to participate in the recycling program was so that all the collections went to the city to sell to make money. Odd. Now it is that program that requires yet ANOTHER city operated program to bail it out.
logansteele November 29, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Mine as well, Ruby M. Either this is a quality of service issue based on a city survey or it is a revenue generator. Is it any wonder we don't trust the city when they aren't being honest with us?

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