There was no specific item on the Sept. 23 Edgewater City Council agenda, but the room was packed and the council spent a great deal of time addressing the issue of garbage service.
The budget slated to take effect Oct. 1 includes $1.49 million dollars for new refuse vehicles and $1.1 million for new trash receptacles for all garbage customers in the city. The new trucks would be automated to pick up the new receptacles, reducing the number of employees needed to manually lift the cans.
Another possibility at least two council members would like to study is privatizing the service. Edgewater is the only local government in Volusia County that still uses its employees and its own equipment to provide the service.
Further complicating the issue is a rate increase to keep the service in-house and a reduction from twice-a-week collection to once, in order to keep the rates from increasing even more.
Residents seem as split as the council itself as to what they want. On the one hand, several people showed up at the council meeting to voice their appreciation to the solid waste employees who they say go above and beyond what is in their job description. On the other hand, council members have been contacted by constituents who want their utility bills reduced.
The issue of whether or not to privatize the service isn’t a new one for the city. But with a transfer station that needs major work and an aging fleet of trucks, the council is faced with a decision that will have financial implications for years to come.
Whether the council decides to move forward with the new trucks right away, the majority of them made it clear at the meeting they support the refuse employees.
“I am so proud of our refuse department,” Mayor Michael Thomas emphasized. “Those guys do an unbelievable job. There’s a lot more to it then you can imagine. We’re the only city who has their own employees doing garbage service and I’m proud of it.”
Councilwoman Megan O’Keefe echoed those sentiments. “I think there was some discussion at the last meeting that kind of got misconstrued,” she said. “There was a discussion about looking at other options, however, myself, I was not OK with that. The garbage men and women have my support. There’s no way that I would entertain doing away with them.”
Councilman Gary Conroy also made his position clear. “There is a lot of anxiety out there,” he said, referring to the refuse employees. “They’re on pins and needles. We need to put this to bed once and for all. You have to know the history of this city. People will say we want our guys.”
Councilwoman Christine Power explained her stance. “The last council didn’t even want to look at the numbers. I’m not afraid to see what it looks like,” she said. “We’ve had people ask us to look at how to lower their utility bills. Doing this doesn’t mean we have to get rid of the employees in solid waste.
“I think it behooves us to look at the numbers and do our job up here which is to look at all of the options,” Councilwoman Power said. “I realize there is more to it than just the numbers. But that’s my job. To find out how the different options compare. It’s not to say we’re going with the cheapest option. But my job is to make sure everyone in the city is considered – not just the loving supporters of the local trash guys. It is our duty to look at all the facts and then make a decision.”
Councilwoman Kimberly Yaney said she would like more information to consider as well. “The current plan is not something I can just rubber stamp,” she explained. “Three and a half million dollars in new expenses plus lowering the service level. We need to do our research.”
In response to questions raised by residents at the meeting, Environmental Services Director Brenda Dewees explained the city has hired a consultant to help staff determine how to possibly reduce rates over time and improve efficiency. She said in the next two months, staff hoped to have a recommended implementation plan to present to the City Council.
In the meantime, refuse collection will continue on the normal schedule and rates will remain the same.