NEW PORT RICHEY — There were no shortage of opinions when the City Council held a work session to discuss its yard debris collection program late last month. And that’s completely normal.

The topic is no stranger to council chambers, even though the service itself is generally well-received. The primary cause of frustration, however, is illegal dumping, which results in large debris piles, increased costs to the city and increased time frames between pickups by Public Works Department crews.

“This comes up every few years for one reason or another,” Mayor Rob Marlowe said toward the end of the nearly two-hour discussion. “I think that’s the impetus at this point; it’s trying to get a handle particularly on the huge community piles that are just a mess, and then some of the roads that just seem to have dozens of piles that don’t get picked up for months at a time.”

New Port Richey offers the yard debris collection program to residents for free and has done so in some fashion for decades. The city is divided into seven zones and the Public Works crew, comprised of three employees, travel throughout each recovering debris piles. The pickup schedule is updated weekly on the city’s website and the entire city is cleared over the course of 6-8 weeks, typically.

In addition to picking up debris piles, the city also transports the yard waste to a composting site at Pine Hill Road. The resulting mulch is available for free to anyone, resident or not. The city also delivers complimentary compost to properties in New Port Richey, Port Richey and Holiday.

“This benefits the city, as well,” said Public Works Director Robert Rivera. “Because with the amount of yard debris that we do take in, we’ve got to get rid of it or we’ve got to take it to the county landfill and pay tipping fees. Those tipping fees are not cheap, so it’s cheaper for us to deliver those requests in a localized area than to do the alternative.”

During a presentation, Rivera provided statistics showing that the tonnage of debris collected in 2012 had doubled by last year, from about 1,700 tons to more than 4,600 tons.

In total, the collection and compost programs cost the city nearly $220,000 per year.

City staff created three future debris collection options for council to discuss, and Rivera stressed that eliminating the program is not an alternative.

Option 1 was the no-change scenario, Option 2 involved contracting trash haulers for yard debris pickup and Option 3 suggested creating satellite sites for the dumping of yard debris.

If changes were to be made, Rivera recommended Option 2. Proposed advantages included higher frequencies of pickups, cleaner and healthier neighborhoods and cost savings with the decommissioning of a dump truck and a loader. The compost program would remain the same.

Opinions differed on specific future alterations among council members, but all remained supportive of continuing yard debris removal and composting. Potential alterations focused on determining how to eliminate or reduce illegal dumping while also improving pickup procedures.

“The maintenance of our city is critical to the value of the properties,” council member Peter Altman said, adding that he’d like to see a more detailed economic analysis of the program and if the potential for profit exists within the composting process by turning some of the byproduct into a higher-quality mulch.

Four residents spoke during public comment, including a former council member, a council candidate on the April 13 ballot and the city’s current Environmental Committee chairperson.

“This adds to the quality of life for the folks here of New Port Richey,” said former council member Bob Langford. “I think it would be a shame to see it go away.”

Council candidate Rachel Giuliani-Hagenbaugh spoke positively of the compost program.

“The quality of the mulch is fantastic,” she said. “I do believe that the city is participating in a very innovative program that has brought a lot of people here. This is a highlight to our growers and to eliminate it would be devastating.”

Discussing the issue in a work session setting last month meant no official actions were taken. Council, staff and the Environmental Committee intend to continue researching possible alterations to the program for further discussions.