Fairhope discusses once weekly garbage collection

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FAIRHOPE – One cost cutting measure raised during recent Fairhope budget meetings is reducing city garbage collection to one day a week.

Fairhope is one of the few cities in the region to collect residential garbage twice a week, Richard Johnson, municipal public works director, told council members in September. During a budget hearing, he said public works officials are still studying the possible savings from going to once a week.

One rough estimate, he said is that operations costs could be cut by about $170,000 a year. The big savings, he said would be with equipment. Once a week collection would require four trucks and crews. The city now uses six.

“Right now, we have two brand new trucks. Once a week would take the demand for any new trucks away. That new truck is not needed because we have a surplus of trucks. Lifespan of trucks would expand 33 percent because the mileage would be cut in half. Because we’re only going by every home once instead of twice,” he told council members. “So that is a significant saving in the sense that if you eliminate a quarter-million-dollar truck from the ask of this budget and the fleet you have can take you longer than it would be if you were still doing twice a week.”

Johnson said the volume of garbage would not change so landfill fees would not be affected. One estimate is that volume might increase slightly since residents would be more careful to put out their garbage since they would not have another day that week.

While not ruling the cut out in the future, however, Council President Jack Burrell said he did not believe the change will be part of the 2019-20 budget the council plans to vote on later this month. “Once a week garbage collection may be something we can look at in the future, but I don’t see it happening right now,” he said. “That’s a service that we’ve been offering, and people are accustomed to.”

Fairhope has 10,381 commercial and residential garbage collection customers, Johnson said. Of those, 9,779 are residential customers who would be affected by the change to once-a-week collection.

Residential collection fees increased by $1 a month to $15.80 on Oct. 1.

That is still a bargain compared to some rates, Johnson said.

The city of Daphne opened bids in September for private haulers to bid on once a week garbage, once a week trash, once a week recycling. The bids averaged $22.70 a month. Johnson said that if the bidders were estimating a 12 percent profit, they would be estimating their actual cost to be about $19.98 a month for each customer.

“One, we provide a high level of service, we’re proud of that and, two, we provide it at a value,” Johnson said.

That price, however, is not enough to cover costs. Mayor Karin Wilson said garbage collection is anticipated to run at a deficit of $600,000 in the upcoming fiscal year. She said rates would have to increase to more than $19 for the city to break even on collection.