Northwest Omaha residents Randy and Pam Sundby care about their “modest” split-level home’s curb appeal.
They say their two-car garage lacks room for two 96-gallon carts, one for trash and yard waste, the other for recycling. So one would have to be put outside.
They have questions about Mayor Jean Stothert’s proposed trash contract, as did many readers who responded to The World-Herald’s request for feedback.
Among them, can residents request smaller cans? “With just my wife and I, we could not fill a 96-gallon container in 3 months,” Randy Sundby said in an email last week.
The answer is yes, you can request smaller cans. (Read on for details.)
The new 10-year, $22.7 million-a-year contract would start by Jan. 1, 2021, if approved by the Omaha City Council. The city would pay $7.8 million a year more than it does now, driven by higher personnel and equipment costs for trash haulers, city officials say.
Stothert has said that the new contract would not require a property tax increase and that she wouldn’t support raising taxes to offer more in trash service. A state law singles out Omaha and requires it to pay for trash pickup with city taxes.
Below are readers’ questions about the proposed trash contract — and the city’s answers, edited for brevity and clarity.
Responses are from the Public Works Department and the Mayor’s Office.
Q: How and when would people get the new carts?
A: Residents would get two dark gray, 96-gallon carts delivered over a 90-day period after the city and new contractor agreed on a start date for the new trash service. Carts could start arriving as early as spring 2020, depending on the start date. Each would have a different color lid to identify the material to be placed in each cart.
Q: Could I get smaller carts if that size wouldn’t work for my home or needs? Could I get two smaller carts for the price of one large cart?
A: Residents would have to use the standard-sized carts for 90 days. After that, residents could request the half-size, 48-gallon carts. People could change the size of one or both carts at no charge.
Additional carts would be available at the resident’s expense. Costs are calculated based on the number of carts, not capacity, so you couldn’t get more than two carts (regardless of the size) without paying an additional fee.
Q: How big are the carts?
A: The 96-gallon carts are 29.75 inches wide, 35.5 inches deep and 43.5 inches tall. The 48-gallon carts are 23.5 inches wide, 28.75 inches deep and 37.5 inches tall.
Q: Where would the carts be placed on pickup day?
A: Residents would continue to place the carts where they now put their trash cans, bags and recycling bins. For the vast majority of residents, that’s at the curb, preferably between the curb and sidewalk.
Q: What about people who live along alleys?
A: Alley service would continue as it does under the city’s current contract. City policy is to review on occasion where alley service is necessary and feasible.
Q: What happens in neighborhoods with on-street parking? How would those carts be collected and dumped?
A: In the eastern part of the city, FCC Environmental Services plans to use semi-automated collection. (FCC is the bidder Stothert recommended for the trash contract.) An FCC employee would retrieve the cart and bring it to the truck, where a power-assist tipper would dump it into the truck hopper. In parts of the city where FCC would use automated trucks, the driver might need to occasionally get out of the truck to reposition the cart.
Q: Could you just throw everything into the recycling cart or would materials have to be sorted by category — newspapers, plastics, etc.? Any restrictions on what could be put in? Would boxes need to be broken down?
A: The list of acceptable recycling materials would remain the same. Residents would not need to sort materials. But they should never use a plastic bag to hold or separate recyclables. Flattening boxes would be encouraged because it makes space for other materials. Residents would be encouraged to place papers in a paper bag to prevent litter while the cart is being emptied.
Q: What about glass?
A: No change — glass still would not be picked up curbside. Glass bottle recycling would remain at Omaha’s drop-off sites.
Q: Explain the spring and fall cleanups. The mayor has said there would be more drop-off points during three-week stretches in both the spring and fall.
A: Spring cleanups would continue as they do now, with additional services. Residents who wanted their yard waste composted could go to a single cleanup site designated for compost-bound yard waste. All other sites would accept yard waste, but it would go to the landfill.
Entirely new this year and thereafter would be a fall cleanup that mirrors the spring cleanup. There would be 10 cleanup Saturdays per year, split between the seasons. Cleanups would be on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In both the spring and fall, yard waste would need to brought in paper yard waste bags or trash cans that could be dumped quickly.
Q: The contract allows people to add an extra cart at their own cost. How long would you have to commit to paying for an extra cart to have one dropped off?
A: Residents could rent the additional cart or carts for one year at a time, paid for in advance. The order would be taken by FCC and paid to FCC. Residents would be able to turn in the cart early, but there would be no refund for unused time. Delivery and removal of the cart would be included in the cost. (An extra trash and yard waste cart would cost $91 a year. An extra recycling cart, $45.50 a year.)
Q: How does the sticker program work for curbside pickup of traditional paper lawn and leaf bags beyond what fits in the cart?
A: FCC would set up a network of retailers to sell the stickers, for $1.98 per bag. The bid requires a minimum of three retail locations in each of four quadrants of the city. Residents would place the stickers on the bag once they are full and at the curb. Stickers would be valid for two years after purchase. The yard waste would still go to the landfill.
Q: What about seniors and the sick or disabled? How would they get the larger carts to the curb?
A: A special collection service already is available for households where all occupants are at least age 70 or have a doctor-verified medical need. Waste is collected from a resident-chosen location. That service would continue. In addition, special-collection customers would be surveyed before cart delivery to determine whether they wanted the 48-gallon carts instead of the bigger carts without waiting the 90 days.
Q: Can the City Council amend the trash contract the mayor recommended or does the council have to vote it up or down?
A: The council has the ability to pass, reject or amend the contract. The mayor also has the ability to veto ordinances passed by the council.
Q: Why did the mayor recommend taking trash and yard waste to the landfill together?
A: The city hired a firm to study the effects, pro and con, of sending yard waste to the landfill versus composting. The study found placing yard waste in the Pheasant Point landfill to be financially and environmentally beneficial. The yard waste generates methane, which is then captured and converted to electricity in the Omaha Public Power District plant at the landfill. (The study’s findings have been disputed by the Sierra Club and other groups.)
Separate collection of yard waste for composting was viewed by the mayor as being cost-prohibitive.
Q: How much more a year would it cost to keep yard waste separate and compost it?
A: Separate collection of yard waste was the most expensive option considered by the city. To continue the service would cost taxpayers $28.6 million annually, based on the FCC bid. The two-cart commingled collection the mayor recommended would cost $22.7 million, $6 million a year less.
Q: Why would Omaha pay more to get less service?
A: Before writing the bid proposal, the city and consulting engineers met with six of the most likely bidders. Those meetings gauged interest in different collection scenarios. None of the potential bidders would consider bidding on the current method of resident-provided trash cans and bags. Secondly, all potential bidders said unlimited yard waste would result in higher bids.
Q: What happens if people refuse to use the carts?
A: If people refuse to use the carts, their waste wouldn’t be collected.
Q: What would happen if a cart was lost, stolen or damaged?
A: People would have to file a police report. The resident then would receive a replacement cart at no cost. Carts damaged because of personal negligence would have to be replaced at the resident’s cost.