More than half of the 716 readers who responded to a survey sponsored by The Wichita Eagle said they pay less than the city's proposed $20 monthly fee for trash service.
An analysis of reader responses shows that the median quarterly bill was $54.62 — or $18.20 a month — which means half of those responding said they paid more than that and half said they paid less. Some get recycling with their service; others don't.
The survey showed what many have suspected: There is a huge disparity in what people pay for trash service.
Some residents reported paying as little as $21 every three months. The highest amount reported was $108 every three months.
The city doesn't control the cost of trash service. Residents pick a trash company among the more than 20 operating in the city. Some neighborhoods have been successful at negotiating special rates by agreeing to go with one hauler.
Under a proposal by the city, trash haulers would form a cooperative and be assigned to certain residential areas. Haulers would honor discounted prices negotiated with neighborhood groups until they expire.
Everyone in the city would get weekly trash service, curbside recycling and annual bulk waste pickup for a flat $20 monthly fee. Residents would pay for trash on their water bill. Haulers have estimated the value of the annual bulk pickup, when residents could get rid of heavy items such as appliances and sofas, at $50.
The plan does not include commercial trash service.
Readers both love and hate the idea.
Starting a dialogue
That doesn't surprise city manager Robert Layton.
Even with some negative reaction, Layton said he is pleased people are talking about trash and especially about recycling.
"What I wanted to do is put a proposal on the table and then start a dialogue about solid waste in the community," he said. "People want recycling and if you take that with the county's desire to franchise, we at least need to talk about it."
People definitely are. Hundreds of people responded to The Eagle online and by letter.
"How much do we pay for trash hauling?" Deborah Gordon wrote The Eagle. "Too much! I would love the trash bill to only be $20 or less."
Gordon and her husband, David, pay $80.60 every three months for trash service without recycling.
"Sixty dollars compared to $80 or plus, that makes a difference after a while," Gordon said.
But others are paying less.
"Don't want the change or my freedom of choice taken away," said Elizabeth Jester. "I feel very strongly that I've had the same trash service for years, and they're wonderful. I do not care to have the city take it over."
Jester pays $45 every quarter with a special neighborhood association rate. She said recycling is not included.
Based on information he received early on from haulers, Layton initially said that 80 percent of residents would pay less with the city's plan. But he said Thursday that that figure doesn't seem to be holding up. He said the city has been crunching The Eagle's data, available online at www.kansas.com.
Layton said based on responses to the plan, the city met again with haulers last week and shared the information The Eagle had collected up to that point with them.
"The mean at that time was $18.17 in terms of a monthly fee," he said. That was for solid waste only, not recycling, he said.
"We had an open discussion. Nothing was decided at that time," Layton said. "They are looking at the data. We're going to get back together in January and decide the next steps."
Sedgwick County wants — but has not required — cities to franchise trash service, or assign haulers to work a selected area of the city. Some cities are, but Wichita hasn't yet gone to such a plan. That means several trash haulers may serve a neighborhood, which the county says puts more wear on roads and bridges.
Since unveiling the city's proposal in November, Layton said he has learned that "obviously cost is an issue to residents. But there are still a lot of folks who have market concerns and don't want any intrusion into the existing system."
Some readers who responded to The Eagle's survey said they haul their own trash to the transfer station. Others said they share trash service with a neighbor. City ordinance requires that each household have its own trash service. But the ordinance is largely unenforceable because the city has no way of knowing which households don't have trash service. That would change under the proposed plan if the city adds the cost of trash service to homeowners' water bills.
So people now splitting the cost would pay $20 a month.
Some residents — especially those older and those who are single — said they wish they could get biweekly trash service, explaining that they don't generate much trash and resent paying as much as families that generate a lot of trash.
Marilyn Coffee said she pays $55 a quarter and probably generates one bag of trash a week. She's been with her trash service for about five years.
She doesn't want to pay more under the city's plan.
"It's really hard for me" financially, she said. "I'm struggling with it as it is."
In her letter, Coffee said that "my water bill has already increased, yet my consumption hasn't. Can't afford more."
In an interview, Coffee said she has a younger sister who is disabled and shares trash service with a neighbor. She said she would hate to see her sister have to pay more.
"If I could, I'd share," Coffee said. "We should get a cut rate for the little amount of trash we have."
M.D. Daetwiler pays $95.66 a quarter, not including recycling.
He said he "sure would" like to see his trash service bill go down.
Daetwiler said he didn't realize he was paying more than most people. He said he hadn't tried to negotiate a better rate.
"I probably would have changed, but they wanted money to pick up the cart."
Layton said the city is honing its proposal.
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us. I have no intentions of trying to throw anything down anyone's throat."