Is Muscatine's garbage at a tipping point?

Is Muscatine's garbage at a tipping point?

  • City officials think so, and they want to try a test that could have garbage pick-up go the route of recycling, using less manpower and more machinery


MUSCATINE, Iowa — Muscatine’s garbage pickup could, in the next few years, resemble the way recycling has been handled here over the past two years: with a machine.

Public Works Director Randy Hill and Laura Liegois, the city’s solid waste manager, briefed city council members Saturday during a budget meeting on a proposal to forego spending $150,000 on a new two-person garbage truck during the coming fiscal year and instead spend part of the money on an experiment.

The idea is to use a trial area — including about 730 households and a commercial area as well — and outfit two of the city’s five garbage trucks with two tippers each. The machines  would hoist city-provided garbage containers into the truck.

If the experiment works well, only trucks designed to pick up the wheeled containers — such trucks require only one employee to operate, rather than the current two — would be purchased in the coming years.

When the garbage system is fully automated, the city’s refuse collection program would begin to save money, City Administrator Gregg Mandsager said, in part due to positions that would be eliminated through attrition.

Like it did when the recycling program was begun in April 2011, the city will provide residents and and small businesses the wheeled garbage containers for free. There’s $34,000 in the proposed budget for the initial set of containers, and $26,000 for the tippers.

Hill said the move will help reduce the city’s trash-spreading problem, caused by winds and by animals breaking trash bags open.

“If (the trial)  doesn’t work, fine,” Hill said. “But I think that people will find this cleans things up.”

It it’s approved, the new program would not increase current garbage and recycling charges, Hill said, which are, for residential service, $15 for seniors and $20 for non-seniors.

Liegois said that automated garbage trucks will be purchased gradually as refuse collection employees retire or find work elsewhere.

Council members made no decision on the plan Saturday.

Other budget items

  • Dick Yerington, executive director of the Muscatine Municipal Housing Agency, said a committee is working on a plan to make Clark House and the Sunset Park apartments smoke-free. The move will not only improve people’s quality of life, it will reduce — by a factor of up to 7 — the cost of cleaning apartments after a long-term smoking tenant leaves. Councilman Tom Spread wondered if residents will become homeless if they can’t stop smoking. No, Yerington replied. They could be offered vouchers to stay in privately owned housing. The possible policy change is still several months away, he said.
  • Transit Supervisor Kristy Korpi said a ceremony during Thursday’s city council meeting to honor a MuscaBus driver who helped save a passenger’s life was not timed to increase council members’ sympathy toward a proposed levy rate increase of 50 cents per $1,000 of valuation to help cover increased fuel and maintenance costs. “It was the mayor’s timing,” she said. In fact, the route that MuscaBus driver Bob Barkema was driving that morning in December — between Wilton  and Muscatine — is being discontinued beginning July 1, according to the budget proposal. Most of those riders are not low-income or elderly and have alternate transportation, Korpi said. While passengers pay $2 per ride on that route, the city’s cost to provide the service is $11 per ride, she said.

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