Recently, City of Milford residents were notified that their trash, recycling and yard waste pickups may be delayed. The delay was caused by several factors, according to Mike Svaby, Director of Public Works. At a recent council workshop, Svaby asked council for permission to issue a Request for Proposal to get a feel for whether it would be more cost effective for the city to contract its trash removal.
“Last fall, I came out and talked a little bit about this. So, I’ll give you an update about the resources involved in our services, which is a good one compared to our sister municipalities in Delaware,” Svaby said. “For those of you that don’t know, refuse is a scale efficient, small operation. And we struggle with filling the four full time equivalency of authorized employees who can get the job done. We have come up with temporary fixes, we have become the master at doing that, but sustainably speaking, we’re not doing well. We cannot fill the four positions that we’ve been authorized for CDL operators, and we haven’t done a great job at keeping our Ford trucks available. They range in age from 2017 to 2020. They’re not even really that old. But typically, in this industry, they take a beating. They run somewhere between 8 and 12 hours a day, five days a week. And they’re a very complicated system. When you buy a trash truck, you have the chassis, you have a body, and you have the actual trash mechanism part of it. So, it goes through three steps when you buy the truck. We were approved this past session for a divided trash truck through the capital budget.”
Svaby explained that council authorized a discussion last fall with private trash companies about how they operate and what it might cost to have some of the trash removal contracted. Svaby explained that because the city was not ready to sign a contract, some of the prices provided were much higher than continuing to offer trash service through the city. He also stated that some companies would not offer a price because it would only have been a temporary solution. However, he felt that if the city offered a long-term contract through an RFP, there may be better pricing offered.
“There are set pieces to this thing,” Svaby said. “We have a schedule our constituency understands, and we would not like to change, we have a fee schedule that is approved and we would like to function within those parameters and see if a competitive environment will come back with a price that gets our trash service into an operation of scale. If you look at the GFL’s or Republics, they have a yard full of trucks so if truck 123 is not working and that’s the truck I drive every day, my street supervisor will tell me to hop into the one next to it seamlessly. If two out of ten people don’t show up, I can pull two from another area to cover. We need to expose this to larger scale resources and see how that effects what we want our services to get done.”
Svaby stated that the week before the workshop, there was a pretty big setback when the city was down to one operating trash truck. This meant that everything except refuse had to be put on hold as accumulating trash could be a health issue. The third truck is now operational, but it will take some time before the schedule is back to normal. Svaby spoke to the City of Wilmington which has extra trucks available. He believes they may be willing to lend or lease one of their trucks to Milford on a temporary basis. Councilman Andy Fulton asked if the issue was the lack of trucks or lack of drivers to which Svaby replied both.
“Your maintenance department only has one person still, right,” Councilman Fulton asked. “Or is it more than what streets and utilities are as for CDL holders. Weren’t you authorized to hire another mechanic? Have we hired that person?”
Svaby explained that the decision was made to wait until the additional police vehicles arrived to hire the additional mechanic as those vehicles may have different needs than the vehicles currently owned by the city. Councilman Fulton asked why this was a problem now and what caused the current mechanic to be unable to repair the trucks. Svaby stated that the issue was related to the current supply chain. He stated that they have a pretty clear process for repairs, but if a part could not be received for several days, it delayed the repair.
“What I would like to see when you come back before us in addition to seeing what kind of bids you get from the RFP for a three year commitment or whatever have you, I want to see the other side of it too. I would like to see information. If we were to lease instead of buy, if we were to this was done on the outside versus the one or two people on the inside,” Councilman Jason James said. “I don’t know how long it’s gonna last but we can’t get stuck on the supply chain because, hopefully, it’s not gonna be forever, so we don’t want to get stuck there. It is a long term decision making thing but bring us both sides of the story. And then we can see different pathways to lease, to buy jointly or hire a vendor to fulfill resources for us, but we need to see different pathways.”
Svaby explained that most of the issues have been with the collection mechanism on the truck and that, in most cases, a part or a mechanic can be there in a day to repair the problem. However, with current supply chain issues, it can take several days or even weeks for a specific part to arrive. He pointed out that the solid waste department has struggled for 16 months to keep up with demand.
“It is not in my DNA to have this privatized,” Svaby said. “But from an employee to employee standpoint, I just don’t see another option for dealing with the many challenges out there.”
Svaby will bring back details on privatizing trash collection as well as other options for purchasing and leasing vehicles in order to provide clearer options to council at a future meeting or workshop.
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