Another city trash proposal likely

02/21/2011 12:00 AM

02/21/2011 6:26 AM

The trash plan is not dead.

At least not yet.

While consumers and politicians ripped apart Wichita's initial proposal to create a trash haulers cooperative that would provide curbside pick-up with easy-to-do recycling for $20 a month, a new plan will likely surface in coming months.

City Manager Robert Layton said a few themes have emerged following the initial proposal:

Residents don't want government deeply involved in the trash business; many people support having more recycling options; and many people oppose a universal rate because of the disparity in how much people throw away each week.

"I'm feeling pretty strongly that the people want these things addressed," Layton said.

He said some seniors have told him they throw away about a bag a week and don't want to pay the same rate as a large family producing far more waste.

A solution would be pay-as-you-throw rates. Some local haulers couldn't weigh each household's trash without investing in new equipment.

That would mean charging by the size of container haulers pick up or by having people purchase special bags at local stores.

Both have been done in other cities.

But discussions among hauling companies and the city are at a standstill for the moment while the city works on a report outlining issues and options that should be debated before bringing another proposal to City Council members in an informal workshop.

Ultimately, whatever plan gets tentative agreement among haulers would be presented to council members and district advisory boards across the city before going back to the council for a vote.

David Lies, vice president of Lies Trash Service and president of the Independent Trash Haulers Association, said that there has been one meeting of the haulers and the city since the initial Nov. 23 workshop.

Under the plan, the city would be divided into hauling areas and each hauling company would retain as many customers as they now and operate in an area that as close to their customer base as possible.

That would take away residents' choice of which company hauls their trash, but it would end the large disparities in costs that have some Wichitans paying only $21 every three months and others paying as much as $108 every three months.

The median monthly price that Wichitans pay is $18.20, according 716 readers who responded to The Eagle's survey in December.

The sticking point among haulers, Lies said, seems to be price.

Lies said that he and several other haulers voiced support for lowering the monthly rate (which includes recycling and an annual bulk waste pickup) to $18.75, but he said Waste Connections wouldn't agree to the rate.

Waste Connections Vice President Jim Spencer, who has been involved on the talks, did not return calls Thursday and Friday.

Lies said his rates are largely dependent on the price of fuel for his trucks and the price per ton that Waste Connections and Waste Disposal charge at the city's two transfer stations.

Waste Connections also owns Plumb Thicket Landfill in Harper County, where most of Wichita's trash goes.

Lies blames continually escalating costs on the per-ton charge — or tipping fee — that Waste Connections charges.

The transfer station fees have increased from $38 a ton in 2001 to $55 a ton today.

Waste Connections has said in the past that its prices are market-driven and that they are competitive with other regional landfills.

Layton said the city developed requests for proposals to operate a transfer station, to transport trash to landfills, and to operate a landfill.

But none of them were ever released publicly because Waste Connections months ago tentatively agreed to lower tipping fees by $5 and to work with the city on ways to control future increases, Layton said.

"I think people would like to see competition, but not necessarily publicly sponsored," Layton said.

While Layton and city officials work on outlining issues and options, at least 15 of the 22 candidates running for mayor and City Council in the March 1 primary have voiced clear opposition to the city's initial proposal.

And the vast majority voiced opposition to anything that takes away consumers choice of who hauls their trash.

"It's going to take a lot more work," he said.

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