Jul. 18—The Marietta City Council has signed off on changes to sanitation services that will see all customers converted to curbside, once-a-week trash pickup.
In an effort to improve morale, recruiting and retention in the sanitation department, the city will no longer offer backdoor garbage pickup, and will no longer pick up trash twice a week. For now, the council elected to leave the recycling program as is, opting against previously discussed service and fee changes.
According to Public Works Director Mark Rice, city sanitation has been operating with 40% vacancy for at least 1.5 years. Much of the department's recruiting and retention woes, he said, are due to the city's unusual practices of offering backdoor pickup and twice-weekly service.
"People that live elsewhere couldn't believe we were doing it twice (per week)," said Mayor Steve Tumlin at a work session last week.
Backdoor pickup involves workers walking up driveways to retrieve garbage from cans outside homes, instead of simply emptying curbside roll carts. The physically demanding practice was implemented in the city in the 1960s — the city has been slowly phasing it out for more than a decade, requiring new subdivisions to use roll carts. The changes approved by the council will end the practice for the roughly 10% of the city's approximately 16,000 that still receive it.
"What it does for the people that do back-breaking, in-the-weather work, I think, is my personal motivation," Tumlin said, in support of Rice's proposal.
The mayor later added that "sanitation is almost at an emergency point."
Customers can submit a request form for backdoor service to the city if they meet certain criteria, such as being 75 or older, having a Georgia handicap parking permit, or proof of certain medical conditions.
The council also approved allocating $650,000 in federal COVID relief funds to purchase roll carts for every sanitation customer, replacing a patchwork system where some residents have city roll carts, while others have their own, non-city issued trash cans.
City Manager Bill Bruton noted that the new roll carts will be larger and hold more trash, reducing the need for frequent pickup.
Over time, Rice said the city could decrease labor costs by using roll carts. The carts can be lifted and emptied into a truck with a mechanical arm, which makes pickup a one-man job, instead of requiring three-man crews.
A new fee structure was approved to go along with the new roll carts.
The city's 32-gallon carts, currently priced at $22.75 per month, will be phased out and replaced with 48-gallon carts, which will be priced lower at $17.75 per month.
Two other sizes will also be available:
— 68-gallon carts, currently priced at $20.50 per month, will be increased to $22.75 per month;
— 96-gallon carts, currently priced at $22.75, will be raised to 27.75 per month.
The city also offers multiple carts for households that produce a high volume of garbage.
The trash service changes were approved unanimously at the council's July 13 meeting.
At the work session, council members also discussed the sanitation workers' wages. Sanitation workers received raises earlier this year as a result of the pay study the city conducted. According to Rice, starting wages used to be around $11 per hour, he said, and are now above $14 per hour.
"I think in the future we really need to look at the salary for our garbage collecting ... My wife and I were driving by somewhere, and we saw Zaxby's was paying $15 an hour," said Councilman Andre Sims.
Sims added that, while the city touts its benefits package to attract workers, many younger people are more concerned about take-home pay than health insurance.
Rice said that private sanitation companies are offering much better wages than the city, and having just as much trouble hiring people. That, he said, is why easing the demands put on workers may be more effective in addressing staffing problems.
"And I'm talking double or 2.5 times what we're paying right now. So, I don't know that putting a lot more money out there right now is going to help our situation," Rice said.
Rice spoke of a city job fair held recently which did not result in a single job application for the sanitation department. He also recalled a prospective employee who had gone through the hiring process, only to reject the city at the last minute, upon learning he would have to perform the backdoor service.
No changes to recycling
On the recycling front, Rice had proposed several cost-saving options for the council to consider, such as adding a $10 monthly fee or halting the service altogether, because of a "300%" increase in the cost of recycling over the past few years.
Two or three years ago, the city paid $15 per ton to dump its recycling at a private processing center (the city does not have its own recycling plant). That price jumped to $45 per ton, Rice said, and has now reached $60 per ton. Come spring, the price is scheduled to rise to $70 per ton.
By comparison, the city spends $36 per ton to dump its trash at a landfill, Rice said.
Rather than adding a fee or eliminating the service, council members decided to hold off and see how the sanitation department is faring in a year.
"I think we got a lot of green people in this world," Councilman Johnny Walker said. "I think if we just cut them off we'd have an awful lot of hurt on our hands."