Reworked trash system offered

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A1

Unlimited garbage pickup would end and curbside recycling would be extended throughout Toledo if city officials accept a plan presented yesterday.

The city-commissioned study of Toledo’s refuse collection operation said the number of garbage workers should be cut in half to save the city millions – $4.5 million by 2005.

The study was completed by the nonprofit Corporation for Effective Government. The group’s previous reports have resulted in the reorganization of many local government agencies.

Its report on Toledo’s refuse system, for which it was paid $50,000, stated that the downsizing of refuse operations can be accomplished without laying off any workers.

“The city of Toledo can and should expect more from our employees,” said David Schlaudecker, who was chairman of the committee that wrote the report.

The 186-page report was commissioned as a result of last spring’s contract dispute between Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and Teamsters Local 20, which represents garbage workers.

Part of the agreement was to accept a fact-finder’s recommendation to have the organization look for efficiencies in the city’s solid waste department.

The report recommends a wide range of action, all aimed at making the department more competitive in cost with private industry:

* Leasing a new fleet of mechanized garbage trucks to pick up the city’s trash. The mechanized trucks would eliminate two of the three jobs on most trucks – the two collectors who stand at the rear of the truck and throw garbage bags in.

With the new trucks, the driver would be able to operate a remote arm to lift and dump containers at curbside.

Mechanizing, however, would force Toledoans to restrict what they put out on the curb every week. Under the new system, trucks would pick up only one 90-gallon container from each house.

* Reducing the number of collectors and drivers from 146 to about 70 by 2005. Mr. Schlaudecker said that could be done through attrition and retirement and would not require any layoffs. It could, however, require a handful of workers to be transferred to other positions.

* Offer curbside recycling citywide every two weeks. Only about 20,000 households are served under the program, city officials said.

* Increase hours for workers. The study found collectors work only about 4.6 hours a day, drivers slightly more. The report recommends increasing that to about eight hours a day.

* Institute a safety program for garbage workers to help prevent injuries. Garbage workers make up only 6 per cent of city employees, Mr. Schlaudecker said, but account for 28 per cent of employee injuries.

* Giving department managers and employees greater leeway in making business decisions, including purchasing decisions and accepting bids. That empowerment, coupled with setting up benchmarks to check on the department’s performance, would make the city run trash pickup more like a business would, Mr. Schlaudecker said.

The report says these changes would result in a $4.5 million cumulative savings by 2005 and more than $2 million a year after that.

But the report does not call for outsourcing the entire department to private industry, as some administrators had hinted they wanted last year, when waste management companies submitted bids for service and a third-party consultant concluded that transferring trash pickup to private operation could save the city $6 million over five years.

Mr. Schlaudecker said many of the volunteers working on the study began with the assumption that private operation would be the best option.

But they reached a consensus that the same money-saving efficiencies could be reached in a city department that is under no pressure to make a profit.

“There’s a lot of positive things to be said for having final control of the entire system,” Mr. Schlaudecker said.

He said that once a city outsources garbage pickup and sells off its garbage equipment, returning to city pickup can be too expensive.

Officials with the union and the city withheld judgment on the recommendations until they have time to read the full report.

“I like the idea of greater mechanization,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “But I will need more time to read the report in its entirety.”

“As far as the total metamorphosis suggested by CEG goes, it’s going to take quite a bit of analysis,” said Greg Kneller, chief steward for Teamsters Local 20.

“It’s an in-depth report. But we’ve got the best service in the state of Ohio, not to mention the country, and that service should be maintained for the citizens who pay for it.”

“As long as workers get reassign ed and no one is losing their job, I think it’s good,” said Councilwoman Wilma Brown. “Some of the ideas are very good.”

The report will go to council members and the mayor, who will determine which of its recommendations they want to make into law. The reports called for the first changes, setting up partnership teams to address high absentee rates, to go into effect in July.

Founded in 1935, CEG is a private, independent research organization specializing in investigating local government systems and issues.