2014-04-17 / Opinion


Not Broken, But Fixed Anyway

Without any discernible hue from residents that the current system was broken, the Newport City Council has awarded a five-year contract that will overhaul the way that trash and recycling materials are gathered at curbside.

The new system, approved by the council on a 5-to-1 vote on April 9 with little fanfare, is promised to streamline procedures, thereby saving money and improving services. Similar to practices already used in Middletown and other Rhode Island communities, the new contract will feature city-owned carts that are compatible with trucks that can automatically lift the canisters.

Accordingly, Newport will pay a one-time first-year charge of approximately $959,000 to provide a recycling bin and a waste bin to each of the 10,100 dwelling units currently being served. Because the receptacles will belong to the city, they will stay with individual properties, irrespective of changes in ownership or occupancy. City staff reports that this initial outlay will be recouped through cost savings under the new contract.

As part of the bargain, the contractor will also administer a stickerbased “pay-as-you-throw” program for bulky waste and an on-street litter barrel collection service that will set up 45 additional solar-powered trash and recycling units across Newport.

Thankfully, the city’s popular yard waste program will remain the same.

The only City Council naysayer to all of this was Councilor Kathryn Leonard, who maintained that her constituents were satisfied with the present system. Before the contract vote, she reminded her colleagues of the very pertinent point that most folks have probably already spent money for trash carts of their own.

It does make us wonder what everyone will do with their old bins when the new ones are delivered later this year.

We are also curious about the literal roll-out of what promises to be rather large wastebaskets on wheels. William Riccio, Newport’s director of public services, reports that the standard capacity of the new carts will be 64 gallons. That’s the size, he said, that helps to gain efficiencies in collection.

But will a frail elderly couple, still living on their own, be able to muscle these monsters to the curb each week without injury? Riccio said that there will be a very limited number of smaller containers for those who have trouble moving the larger canisters.

Let’s hope there are enough to go around when the requests start coming in.

Finally, but significantly, the administration has estimated that the new arrangement will save the city about $250,000 per year over current costs. However, the cumulative savings are not what they seem. Unless our math is incorrect, at that rate it will take four years out of the five-year contract to reimburse the city for the almost $1 million price tag of those big bins.

Granted, the remaining year’s savings of $250,000 is nothing to sneeze at, and optional one-year renewals thereafter play into the total picture.

We probably won’t know whether all works as planned until early in 2015. While the program has an official start date of July 1, the new service won’t actually begin until Nov. 1, following a transition period. Given the dynamics, we sincerely hope that things work as predicted and that the costs are in line with estimates.

But we continue to wonder.

If the current program wasn’t broken, was there a need to re-do it from top to bottom?

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