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It costs New Port Richey nearly $200,000 a year to collect yard waste from residents, according to City Manager Debbie Manns. The city might not be able to do anything to reduce that cost, since collecting yard waste is likely an ‘intractable” problem with no ready solution, said Mayor Rob Marlowe.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Prior to City Council’s first regular meeting of the month, the board and city staff had a healthy debate over how trash and yard debris is collected within city limits.

City Manager Debbie Manns opened the work session by detailing topics for review by the five-member council. One of those issues was the system residents and businesses get their trash collected.

Six waste-hauling companies collect trash from residential and commercial properties in the city and they compete for that business in an open-market system. Home and business owners hire and pay their selected company directly, or neighborhoods with homeowners associations can include those fees in HOA dues.

Eligible waste haulers are licensed by the county and charge the county rate, which is a maximum of $12.44 per month or $37.32 quarterly with potential additional charges for extra services.

The idea Manns floated to the council was changing to a single-hauler system. “That would mean that the city would competitively bid the service and we would have one hauler on the street,” she said.

Pasco County, off and on over the years, has considered dividing the county into exclusive waste-hauling franchise areas, often citing a desire to have fewer trucks on street but has never implemented such a system.

Manns said that making the switch within the city could include the establishment of municipal trash-collection districts, which would ensure that all residents receive service.

“Based on the numbers that haulers are providing to us that we do not have 100 percent coverage in the city for the pickup of residential waste, at least. We think that if it were competitively bid that we would get a lower rate and would be able to pass that on to our residents.”

Before a single-hauler system could get to the competitive bidding process the city would have to conduct a public hearing in addition to providing the haulers with three years notice of the change. That three-year period, however, could be negotiated down if the city and the haulers come to a mutually acceptable agreement, Manns said.

In changing to a single-hauler system, city staff suggested establishing a consolidated billing process that would include residential and commercial trash bills on water bills.

“The reason we would like to do that is to improve the likelihood that people will pay the bill,” Manns said, adding that the city would not have the power to shut off anybody’s water because they didn’t pay the trash bill. Charging an administrative fee for collecting on behalf of the haulers would also be a source of revenue for the city, Manns said.

The idea of reducing the number of companies that operate in the city, hence reducing the number of garbage trucks on city streets, was received warmly by the council, switching to the single-hauler system didn’t gain much traction.

“I like the idea of having less huge trucks on our roads but I’m all about service,” Councilman Jeff Starkey said. He once switched waste haulers because of the poor service he was receiving, he said.

“If we go to one carrier, I don’t have that luxury, do I?” Starkey asked. In response, Manns said that was correct.

Councilman Chopper Davis rejected the single-hauler option outright. “I’m 100 percent against it,” Davis said.

Hernando County has a single-hauler trash system that is the number-one source of complaints the county receives, Davis said a Hernando County commissioner has told him.

“I don’t want to put that in the responsibility of these people right here to have to monitor those calls,” Davis said, referring to city staff members. “I think we shouldn’t even be in that business of taking phone calls because somebody’s trash didn’t get picked up.”

Councilman Peter Altman, a former Pasco County commissioner, was the most receptive to exploring the switch, though he doesn’t think going with just one hauler is correct. “I would agree that we shouldn’t have an exclusive contract, but I’m not so sure that the process that is being recommended is a bad one because it may force these vendors to be able to negotiate and compete.”

After the discussion, council told staff to continue looking into reducing the number of hauling company options, but still allowing any property owner in the city to choose any of the available options. There was a concern that breaking the city into service districts would take away a resident’s ability to switch if they’re unsatisfied with their designated hauling company.

Also receiving a substantial amount of attention during the roughly hour-long work session was the city’s yard debris collection program, which has been operating since 2008. The city’s Streets Division picks up yard debris throughout the city.

Residents pile up the yard debris such as leaves and grass clippings at curbside, and city crews go on a continuous pick-up cycle that takes from six to eight weeks to complete.

The city is paying almost $200,000 a year to operate the yard debris collection program and requested comments about switching to curbside pickup by waste haulers, according to Manns.

Altering this system, which is on the books as a city ordinance, also received mixed reviews but will continue to be reviewed by city staff moving forward.

“It looks like we’ve got an intractable problem without a whole lot of good solutions right now,” Mayor Rob Marlowe said,” but (I’d ask) if you guys can come up with any way to make this work to cut down on the amount we’re having to spend to pick up this stuff.”