As a former manager of trash services I know firsthand how important trash collection can be in a resident’s life. If your truck had a slow start in the morning, the day would be filled with calls from customers convinced that we forgot about them and missed their street. I learned that trash customers are some of the most loyal customers you can ever hope to have but like a big family they have certain expectations for you to live up to and any unexpected change can send shock waves through the City. I offer these reflections only to say that I understand that you Do Not Mess With Trash Service — and God help those that do. Which is another way of saying, I would never take changing trash service lightly and my support for the Public Service Director’s recommendation to have the City manage trash in Kent comes after 2 year’s of study because I believe it will save our residents money and provide a way to get better service — which ultimately is our job.
Let me say it again — Less Money and Better Service. Those are the reasons we’re talking about considering changing the way trash services are managed in Kent. The newspaper headline last week suggested that we were looking at this for aesthetic reasons — and while we believe that’s a nice side benefit, we are talking about this because we think it’s our job to find ways to save our residents money and improve services.
Certainly there’s no guarantees of saving money until the bids are submitted but Aurura and Hiram just recently converted from the trash haul free-for-all to a managed system and they saved their residents between 25% to 35%. At a time when every penny counts we thought this idea merited further study here in Kent.
We believe that there are lots of potential benefits to changing the trash services and here’s Gene’s powerpoint that he showed to City Council last week (August 6, 2008) outlining those.
Since trash services is held so closely to people’s hearts I would like to offer a little perspective on how other cities manage trash services to set the context for our own discussion of the issue here in Kent.
It’s probably important to note that as a manager of public services I don’t necessarily like to be the first to market with a new service idea or innovation but I definitely like to be an early adopter. What I’m getting at is we (as a city) probably don’t have the depth of resources — in either people, technology or money — to be able to afford all the trial and error investment that comes along with leading edge R&D so we prefer to let the richer cities test it and prove the concept before we jump in the game. I guess I’m saying we can’t really afford to buy the guinea pigs but we can be quick to adapt a good idea and proven concept to Kent on someone else’s dime.
I wish I could say that managed competition in trash services is a new concept but quite frankly cities have been managing trash services for over a hundred years — just not in Kent. I don’t know the history well enough to explain why the city went ahead and set up water, sewer, streets, police and fire services but chose to not pursue sanitation services. To be honest sanitation was a big reason why cities came into existence in most places but apparently not here.
Even the Federal Government calls household trash “municipal waste” because in most cases the municipality handles it either through collection by city employees or by private franchises. It was a part of why people left the rural areas and moved to cities: better jobs and better services — and in the early days those services were police, fire and sanitation.
I was brought up in government under the assumption that trash services (which today includes recycling) was a core government services so I was surprised when I came here only to discover that Kent city government has not made trash services a part of the city service portfolio.
In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that there was a part of me that was relieved that Kent stayed out of the trash game since trash services usually have high demands and expectations which translate into a fair amount of time and attention to all kinds of trash customer needs (oh the stories I could tell). But on the other hand, I also found that time investment led to higher appreciation by residents — and as a result trash services are often the highest rated services that a city provides.
Of course people want great police and fire services but the majority of the population only encounters (hopefully) those services on rare occassions whereas trash is picked up week in and week out. That weekly contact builds a relationship with our residents that is paid back in mutual appreciation that gives people a very real reason to feel that they do indeed get something for their hard earned tax dollars.
I’d carry that line of reasoning one step further to say that without that kind of weekly tangible contact the city government in Kent is mostly only called upon when there’s a problem of some kind which means if you rarely have problems you never really see what you’re getting for your taxes. Or, if you see us a lot because you’re having a lot of trouble, that tends to not be a very friendly interaction. Either way, I think we miss the value that weekly trash service affords.
All that being said we’re not proposing to jump into the trash arena with city crews but we do think it’s time to take a serious look at the trash haul free-for-all. I snooped around the internet a little to get a feel for how our neighbors in northeast Ohio and our peer cities (meaning university cities) in Ohio dealt with trash. It turns out that many of the northeast Ohio cities that I consider to offer the best services to their residents do manage services either through their own collection or through franchise contracts.
Here’s a look at a quick sampling of what I consider the best in class cities that I did in preparing this blog post. All of them manage trash services (the links will take you to their city trash service page).
Then I took a look at the other state university cities in Ohio since we tend to share a lot of commonalities with them. It turns out that all of the other university cities, except Kent, took a direct role in managing the trash flow in their cities.
Ohio University Cities — all of whom manage trash services
City of Columbus
City of Cleveland
City of Akron
I’m not here to argue that just because the higher service cities and our peer cities are doing something one way we should robotically (is that a word) follow them but in this case I think there’s good sense in the concept and the numbers point in that same direction.