Trash fees vary widely within Valley
A resident asked Harrison Commissioner Chuck Dizard if the township was still going to have a spring cleanup this year.
Spring cleanup is now every week of the year, no matter the season, Dizard told the resident.
That's because, with the new garbage hauler the township got this year, Harrison residents can put out all the garbage they have, every week, instead of being limited to three bags.
It includes large items, too, such as mattresses, furniture and appliances.
The township's new contract with Waste Management came at a price — a 52 percent increase over the prior deal with Morrow Refuse Inc. But township officials said it was the lowest price they got — and the difference between limited and unlimited collection was slight, just $1.68 per month.
Officials said they sympathized with residents who were upset with the increase — from $13.80 per month to $21, an increase of $7.20. And they were concerned about older residents, who may not produce that much garbage, Commissioners President Bill Heasley said.
Waste Management and Vogel Disposal Services Inc. bid for the contract, and "both of them came in substantially higher than what we were paying Morrow," Heasley said. "That was a concern. Unfortunately, those were the only two companies that bid on the contract."
Despite a few issues that need to be worked out, township officials are saying five months into the new contract that the arrangement is working out well, and helping address the problem of uncollected garbage accumulating in the township's alleys.
"I've had many compliments about how well-received people are with" unlimited pickup, Dizard said. "Having unlimited pickup was a significant, positive change for Harrison Township."
With limited collection, many township residents were producing more garbage than would be collected. Instead of arranging for it to be picked up, that extra garbage would sit around for another week, said Lindsay Fraser, supervisor of the township's zoning and ordinance office.
Bulk items were not picked up at all, she said.
With the unlimited service, Fraser said the difference has been dramatic, particularly in the alleys and the township's more densely populated areas. Fraser said her office now is able to focus on other concerns instead of spending time dealing with garbage complaints.
"We've had nothing but positive feedback," she said. "At first, I think, the price increase was tough for some people. We got some initial hesitation from residents about that. However, the fact remains they were the lowest bidder.
"The service level, I think, has changed commensurate with the price."
While some Harrison residents may feel they got unfairly hit in the pocketbook, their price for garbage collection is not the highest in the area.
People living in Tarentum, Vandergrift and New Kensington pay more.
Looking at 13 municipalities with garbage contracts finds an average monthly cost of just over $18, only about $3 less than Harrison residents pay now.
A lot of factors go into the cost of garbage collection and disposal, said David Buzzell, counsel to the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association. They include population density, collection efficiency, frequency of pickup and the services provided.
Because of all the things that can affect the cost, there is no typical or average cost, Buzzell said.
Harrison's unlimited service is interesting, he said.
"You have to be able to provide the ability to collect whatever is out there as opposed to a limited amount," he said. "Not providing the service is not an option."
While many municipalities have contracts with annual price increases, Harrison's price with Waste Management will not change for three years, Dizard said.
Waste Management spokeswoman Erika Deyarmin-Young said the company takes a number of factors into account when setting a price for service — such as how many trucks and employees are needed.
"Obviously, unlimited collection is going to impact the cost of service, as you are increasing the amount of material residents are throwing away," she said.
The state of the recycling industry is the biggest issue affecting the cost of garbage and recycling collection, Deyarmin-Young said.
"Recyclers rely on overseas markets to help move and process material," she said. "Right now, China has banned the United States from exporting any recyclables to the country for 30 days."
That ban runs until June 4.
"Strict regulations that went into effect at the beginning of this year have required recyclers to immediately respond," she said. "The value of material is down, while recycling contamination rates are up. Over the past several years, we have realized there is an increasing cost to processing and collecting recyclables, and we must cover the cost of doing business."
In Harrison, Deyarmin-Young said Waste Management believes the change is going very well.
"While residents do not have to pay extra to dispose of excess or bulk material, we still ask them to contact us ahead of time when they have more material than usual to dispose of," she said. "This helps us better plan our routes and allows us to prepare for an overflow of material."
There are some issues Harrison and Waste Management are working to address.
Residential properties in the township are required to have their garbage collected by Waste Management. The township will not permit residents to take garbage off-site for disposal elsewhere, such as at a business dumpster.
However, in a mixed residential-commercial building, the township will allow the building owner to contract with a hauler for commercial pickup, and for the residents there to use the commercial hauler, Fraser said.
In addition to some billing issues, some accounts are beginning to become delinquent and are going into collections.
"Waste Management has been really responsible about forwarding the delinquent account list to our office so that we are able to proactively track those properties," Fraser said.
Residents who allow their garbage to pile up could be cited.
While some of the accounts are legitimately delinquent, some of the properties are vacant, while others were billed in error.
"Because we have a solid working relationship with Waste Management, we're able to sort through the different account status issues and more effectively respond," Fraser said.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4701, email@example.com or on Twitter @BCRittmeyer.