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Thursday, June 26, 2014

New plan for trash in Wichita: co-op for haulers

BY BRENT D. WISTROM AND DEB GRUVER
The Wichita Eagle

Curbside recycling, once-a-year bulky waste pick up and standard weekly trash service — all for $20 a month on monthly Wichita water bills.

That is all part of a deal Wichita City Council members will informally discuss Tuesday as they consider the formation of a trash haulers' cooperative.

The proposed deal would allow customers to throw all recyclable materials into one bin that would go to a new sorting facility in Wichita.

An initial council vote on the agreement could happen by the end of the year, but many details still will have to be worked out, City Manager Robert Layton said Friday.

Layton said he hasn't seen reliable statistics on consumer cost savings. But he said the $20 monthly fee should be as good as or less than most people pay for basic service and recycling.

Layton has been working on the deal with independent trash haulers for about a year.

It's a touchy topic that has been deferred repeatedly.

But council member Jim Skelton, who has pressed for trash franchising for years, says it has huge benefits to customers.

It reduces the number of heavy trucks rumbling over residential streets, provides uniform service citywide and could cut down on illegal dumping, he said.

"We'll see how this evolves," he said. "I'm just excited to be looking at opportunities right now."

Council member Paul Gray, who has opposed the concept for years, says it takes away consumers' choice and, in some cases, raises costs.

Gray said he pays $58 every three months for service — $2 less than the proposed deal. And he said he likes the person who hauls his trash.

"I don't want them to tell me who my trash service is any more than I want them to tell me what gas station to use," he said.

Under the proposed deal, each hauling company would maintain the number of customers it has now.

The haulers' cooperative would allot each company a section of the city near their current customer base.

The proposed agreement would lock in prices for three years and allow future rate hikes based on fuel and tipping fees, the per-ton price haulers pay when they take waste to the city's two transfer stations. The deal also would control the tipping fees.

It would also allow the haulers' business to grow proportionately as more customers enter the system.

David Lies, vice president of Lies Trash Service and president of the Independent Haulers Association, said he's eager to see how council members react to the basics of the proposal Tuesday.

Lies said other independent haulers have voiced general support for the deal, but he said many details remain to be resolved.

It could save Lies' customers some money.

His customers now pay $60 every three months, plus $6 more per three months for recycling. He estimated that the annual bulk waste pickup — where haulers take away large items such as old refrigerators and couches — would save many residents about $50.

"We're going to try to control the price so they're not going up so much," he said.

Lies said some people will inevitably be disappointed to get a new hauling company in their neighborhood. But he said many concerns should be reduced since each hauler will answer to the cooperative and haulers will provide uniform service.

Layton said that the proposed system is not "franchising," which typically zones the city and has companies bid on a zone.

He said the proposed cooperative is similar to one used in Tulsa.

"The franchising in the past was much stronger," he said. "And we've tried really hard not to do that."

City Council member Jeff Longwell said his concern all along was that the city not push small haulers out of business.

"I'm not for franchising if it's going to jeopardize our small haulers and their ability to do business in town," he said. "As long as we can accomplish what we want to accomplish and provide the small haulers the opportunity to continue serving Wichita, then I think it's the best of both worlds."

Longwell said small haulers "seem happy with what's crafted."

The plan "gets us closer to doing more recycling, probably lowers everybody's costs a little bit and relieves some of the traffic on our streets."

Council member Janet Miller said more people have asked her about citywide curbside recycling than any other issue.

"We have so many people who want to recycle and either find it inconvenient to do on their own or cost prohibitive or just feel... that many people don't recycle just because they have to pay more or go to an additional effort to do it," she said.

Council member Sue Schlapp said she had been out of town but had looked at a draft of the plan briefly and "it looked pretty good.

"My concern in the past has been we wanted to make sure the free market still existed," she said.

Schlapp said she will need to delve more into the plan before voting.

"I'm probably going to be comfortable with it," she said.

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 316-268-6228 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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