Weekly Update: Explaining potential trash pickup changes


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We hear you: You don’t like that it can take as many as 21 days for us to pick up large piles of waste placed outside of your carts -- items like branches and bags of leaves. Truth is, you probably didn’t even know that 21 days has been the city’s service goal for years.

Know what? We think that’s too long, too.

So in keeping with our ongoing pursuit to improve city services and not simply be satisfied with the status quo, we’re presenting some options that can dramatically lower that time -- the 21-day “service level agreement” (SLA) that’s established -- and provide guaranteed service. But those options also come with changes and potential fee increases, which is why I wanted to clearly explain all parts of this issue today.

Please note that while staffing has been level in recent years, the city has substantially reduced the number of solid waste workers from the levels of many years ago. In the early 1980s, for instance, we had about 1,000 solid waste employees. Now, we have fewer than 500.

Simply put, our solid waste operation only has the amount of trucks and employees needed to provide the current level of service. If we want to improve on this service, we have to add more trucks and employees and limit how much excess waste is placed at the curb. There will be plenty of conversation and media coverage about this in the weeks to come, but it all simply boils down to that.

Remember, we’re only talking about excess waste -- not the usual garbage and recycling carts that are serviced every week. Here’s a quick summary of the options we're presenting to the City Council:

  1. No fee increase, but no more excess waste collection. A citizen drop-off center would be created and a third weekly pick-up cart could be leased, but customers would face a code violation for excess trash that’s not in a cart.
  2. The fee increases by $2.25 to $25.05 per month, and excess waste collections (up to four per year) must be called and scheduled. Our service level would improve -- from 21 days to seven days -- and there would still be a citizen drop-off center option.
  3. The fee increases by $5.25 to $28.05 per month, and excess waste collections would take place during a designated week per month.
  4. The fee increases by $10 to $32.80 per month, and excess waste collections would take place just as they do for your garbage and recycling -- on the designated day each and every week.

Also, and this is important: For options 2, 3, and 4, the maximum amount allowed to be placed at the curb would be eight cubic yards -- about three pickup truckloads. Anything more placed at the curb would be subject to a code violation.

If you want to dig into the details, we've posted our entire presentation to the council here. I encourage you to look through it.

There’s a great upside to all of these options: cleaner neighborhoods. That’s another thing I hear from you about, and it’s something on which I campaigned for mayor. Not having excess waste at the curb for days at a time would do wonders in this regard.

Our solid waste fund has been running in the red in recent years -- a simple equation of costs exceeding what we bring in with fees -- and is scheduled to be depleted by 2020. We would tap that fund in the event of any major city emergency or natural disaster, so it’s important that there’s money there.

Also, we did a spot check of fees and service levels in nearby suburbs and in other cities our size. We found that our fees were on the low end of the spectrum and our 21-day service level was roughly in the middle.

So that’s the long and the short of it. We welcome your feedback. Sure, we could’ve just done all of this in some back room of City Hall, rushed it down to the council one day and hoped you never noticed it on your MLGW bill. But that’s not how we operate. That’s not what you deserve.

We’ll continue to work with our partners on the Memphis City Council to choose the option that best fits your needs. When we do, I’ll be back with more details about implementation.

Hold us accountable: Check out our latest performance review data, which covers the month of March.

One number that's not in there, but that I’ll share with you today as a bit of a sneak preview of Tuesday’s City Council meeting: Our minority and women-owned business spend is now up to 20.24 percent -- a full 60 percent higher share of city spending than when we took office.

Certified tax rate set: Last week, I explained the certified tax rate, and how our proposed property tax rate for 2017-18 would decrease in line with how much property values increase in the current reappraisal. This week, we found out what the certified tax rate will be: $3.27 per $100 in assessed value.

That's down from the current $3.40 rate. My budget proposal is built around the $3.27 rate.

Better Memphis: On Tuesday, I went over to 201 Poplar and delivered 33 checks for $450 a pop to expunge records and help make life better for 33 Memphians. This is our third group of privately funded Better Memphis Fund recipients. I explain why this is so important in this video.

Incremental Development Alliance returns: Interested in rolling up your sleeves and investing in a better neighborhood? The Incremental Development Alliance is back in town next week for the Memphis Small Scale Development Workshop, which can help you learn more about neighborhood-based development. Learn more or register here. We’re co-sponsoring the event.

A couple of articles worth reading: I’ll leave you this week with a couple of articles about positive momentum in Memphis: 1) Memphis International Airport has an international flight again for the first time in five years, and 2) Memphis is the No. 10 best city for job-seekers in the country!


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