Monday, April 09, 2012

City to institute automated trash pickup, still plenty of questions - hoping for answers sooner rather than later

Earlier this month Oshkosh residents received a letter from the city advising us that later this year our trash will start being picked up via automated means, much like our recyclables are picked up, effective a few years ago. There are all kinds of reasons for the city doing this, they say, including to reduce the number and cost of injuries to employees resulting from lifting trash containers. Certainly no one wants to see anyone get hurt – on the job, or otherwise – but on that note, I would hope the city will provide some data as to how much those kinds of injuries have cost to date and how much of a reduction we’ve realized in frequency and cost per injury once automation begins and has been underway for six months to a year.
Generally speaking I don’t mind us going to an automated system but I found the letter to be lacking in information and the date established for when we must have our trash bin sizes “ordered” somewhat premature.
I say it is premature because we all have to have our bin size selection made not later than May 1. If you want or need to order more than one bin for your property, you also have to have that decision made by that time, however, the letter says the city will determine at a later date how much additional a property owner will have to pay annually to have the additional bin(s) serviced. Isn’t that something we should know before making a decision? In addition, for the property owner who will only occasionally have more trash than what will fit in the bin, the city anticipates selling stickers for the overage. But again, there is no price yet determined for what the stickers will cost. Clearly these are things the city should have determined before requiring us to make decisions by May 1. Informed decisions cannot be made without having all the answers.
Over a week ago I contacted all seven of our city council members about these issues. To date I have heard from only three: Deb Allison-Aasby, Steve Cummings and Steve Herman – in that order. They all said they understood the concern and would hope to have answers by the May 1 deadline, but there was no guarantee of that. Nor is there a whole lot of time between now and then. Since the council only meets twice per month, they really need to have this ironed out by tomorrow night’s meeting in order to get the information out to the public in a timely manner. If they cannot do that, then they should consider extending the date by which citizens have to place their bin order.
I have not heard from the other council members, nor have I had any responses from city manager Mark Rohloff or Public Works director Dave Patek, to whom the three council members who wrote me said they were sending my emails on to for great clarification. Mr. Rohloff will be appearing on an upcoming edition of Eye n Oshkosh and I know some of our questions will focus on this new program.
Meanwhile, there are some other things citizens need to be aware of so they are not caught off-guard or have to call city hall inquiring.
·         When the recycling bins were introduced a few years ago the city automatically gave everyone the larger bin, unless a property owner specifically told them they wanted the smaller one. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that is the same case here; it’s not. Instead, the city is doing it just the opposite: This time around everyone will automatically have delivered to them the smaller bin unless they specifically request a larger one. Why the change? Doesn’t the city think most households will generate more trash than what can be held in the smaller bins, especially if they have children? Or is the “point” to be able to charge people for extra pickups, and the like? A cynic might say, that is exactly the point.
·         These trash bins are the same size as the recycling bins. I don’t know why the city could not just say that in its letter to us, instead of providing us with measurements and dimensions of the new bins. People can’t always visualize sizes by hearing or reading dimensions, but since we all now know the sizes and capacity of the blue bins, that would have been the smarter way to go.
·         The letter says we’ll get more information delivered to us at a later date as to how we’re to pay for the bins. But on the city’s web site the day the letters went out, it stated the cost of the bins would be put on people’s tax bills. Why couldn’t they just say that in the letter instead of saying “We’ll tell you later,” then wasting more time, paper and postage later to tell us?
It’s these kinds of thing that I find as annoying as my grandmother might have found a bee in her bonnet. I just have this sneaking suspicion that the city will not have the extra fee information ironed out in enough time for people to make informed decisions by May 1. I hope they prove me wrong. But if not, that will be one more reason why people are suspicious of and do not like government. Government should have things figured out before asking people to make decisions. To do anything less is irresponsible and somewhat reactionary. And reactionary government does not make responsible or good government.

P.S. Call City Hall at 236-5000 to get your other questions answered or voice your concern over this situation. You can also reach the city council members and other city staff by going to the city's web site at


Blogger Margy said...

Cheryl, the larger blue bins are meant to encourage recycling all appropriate items with the least inconvenience. Quite a few gallon milk containers will fit, without having to stomp them flat, for example. However, the opposite result is hoped for with the smaller black bins. They are meant to encourage sustainable practices such as composting, recycling, and waste reduction, leaving less garbage to go into a landfill. Makes perfect sense to me!

April 10, 2012 1:19 AM  
Blogger Cheryl Hentz said...

Hi Margy. I appreciate what they are hoping to accomplish. However, there is still no excuse for them not providing all answers before expecting people to make decisions. That's just poor government and, frankly, they should have provided all the answers in the material they sent out, not wait until after the fact for the council to adopt fee amounts, etc. By doing things that way they're only ensuring that many people will not get all the answers they need.

April 10, 2012 1:35 AM  

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