In contrast with recurring reports of trash hauler Waste Pro stumbling on the job, 67 percent of Palm Coast residents like their garbage pick-up service, a boon to the hauler as it struggles to keep its ranks staffed and prolong its $9 million contract with Palm Coast.
Waste Pro is approaching the end of its latest five-year contract as Palm Coast’s hauler, going back to 2007. The contract ends in 2022. The city is preparing to issue a request for proposals, an elaborate and careful bid process in a competitive industry with a direct bearing on residents’ quality-of-life issues.
Waste Pro appears to have gotten fairly good marks for the current service. But nothing says the council will stick with the hauler for another five years. Council members aren’t interested in any significant changes to current service methods–frequency of pick-ups, recycling, yard waste. They’re only interested in exploring a few cosmetic changes, like perhaps having the city provide garbage bins. But pick-up frequency and recycling will not change. Still, that doesn’t mean the city won’t change hauler if it gets a more attractive offer as it continues toward its bidding process.
A survey of residents was part of that process. The council wants to know what sort of service residents are looking for in the next five years. The survey generated nearly 12,000 responses (online and through utility bills), a considerable response for this sort of survey that reflects residents’ interest in their service. Its results were announced at a council workshop this morning.
(A caveat: the survey was not scientific, and online surveys are vulnerable to tampering or skewing: nothing stopped respondents from outside the city from participating. Nothing stopped respondents from essentially stuffing responses one way or the other. The results presented today did not show a breakdown between responses from utility bills, which would have more certainly shown actual Palm Coast residents and would have been relatively tampering free, and online responses.)
The basics: 56 percent of residents’ top priority with trash is “consistent and timely pick-ups,” 25 percent want “quality service,” and just 19 percent rated cost as a top priority. On the other hand, 45 percent of respondents said they’d accept a reduction of pick-ups from twice a week to once a week–if it reduces cost, but 39 percent said they wanted to stick with twice a week.
With recycling, a surprisingly low number of respondents–55 percent–consider curbside recycling important. Among all respondents, 46 percent of residents are willing to go to just every-other-week pick-up, instead of the weekly pick-ups now, 30 percent are willing to pay more to maintain weekly pick-ups, and 19 percent are willing to abandon curbside recycling altogether.
The survey did not evaluate residents’ confidence in recycling pick-ups. Many cities and counties are either abandoning or scaling back the type of recycling they’re doing. Flagler Beach last week ended all recycling except for corrugated cardboard and aluminum. Residents frequently claim that even though they fill recycling bins for pick-up, they have no confidence that their recycling materials are actually being recycled rather than ending up dumped with regular trash. Trash haulers themselves have struggled with making recycling pay, as markets for most recycling materials have dried up.
There appears to be no interest on the council’s part to scale back recycling efforts. Nor are council members interested in going to one-day-per-week pick-up, though some haulers propose that option as a way to reduce truck crews from two to one, automating part of the pick-up and presumably reducing costs–or keeping them from rising. That, anyway, is the argument, though companies that have maximized productivity by cutting workforces have disproportionately padded surging profits rather than passed savings on to customers.
In any case, council members aren’t interested in retreating from two-day pick-ups, though they’re curious about what sort of savings might be proposed. “I can kind of already foresee the cataclysmic influx of code enforcement issues that could potentially have to be dealt with,” City Council member Nick Klufas said of once-a-week pick-up.
“I would not be in favor of changing the frequency and style,” Mayor Milissa Holland said. “When we talk about 67 percent, that’s a very high percentage of satisfaction with our current service.” Holland isn’t interested in risking that higher satisfaction rating by making a significant change to pick-up norms. “I think we should give the haulers at least two options and then see what they could do, and then we could decide what’s the best for our residents.”
The city also asked residents about the sort of container they’d prefer. Some 55 percent of residents would accept a city-provided (or hauler-provided) wheeled container–if it reduced costs, while 10 percent would actually prefer a city-provided container, and 32 percent prefer using their own. Usually a hauler contracted to provide containers will provide one container for free, giving the option to residents to have a second container, but at a cost.
The survey also found 55 percent of residents accepting once-a-month bulk pick-up (appliances and the like), though some council members aren’t interested in seeing appliances sit on curbs for weeks at a time.
“I trim all my own bushes and palm trees and stuff and probably every week I’ve got stuff out there so I think, you know, overall my own personal experience has been, this has been a pretty good service,” Council member Ed Danko said. “I know we had a recent problem, which a lot of businesses are having hiring people, finding people that want to stop taking the handouts and go back to work. But that’s going to resolve itself at some point, when the government money dries up and people will go back to work.”
Waste Pro explained earlier this month that its recent difficulties in Palm Coast relate to the company’s difficulties keeping its ranks filled. But Danko was misrepresenting the issue, repeating a popular welfare-queen misconception about unemployment checks keeping workers home. The myth has been finding new peddlers, on talk radio and social media especially, since Ronald Reagan first fueled the lie while running for president in the late 1970s, though the myth has been repeatedly debunked. (“Despite what critics may say,” the centrist Brookings Institution reported in one such debunking, “generally speaking, a worker cannot quit his or her job and still collect UI benefits. Workers are only eligible for UI if they lose their job or hours involuntarily (for a reason other than their own misconduct), or if they stop working for “good cause.” States vary in their interpretation of “good cause,” but a typical reason that would be a worker who is experiencing domestic violence or because an employer asks a worker to engage in illegal activity.”)
As for the city’s RFP, council members opted to put out two options for haulers to consider, eliminating the once-a-week pick-up option altogether and the every-other-week recycling option. Yard waste will stay a once-a-week pick-up regardless. The only potential changes will have to do with bins–whether the city or the hauler will provide then, or whether residents will still be responsible for them.