The city is looking into several different options for solid waste collection and disposal to ensure it stays ahead of any major population and rate changes.
Plant City may soon consider altering the way waste is collected and disposed of following an in-depth solid waste rate study by Public Resources Management Group, Inc.
The company presented the findings of its study last month at a commission meeting, detailing the changes they recommend and laying out some alternative methods the city may want to explore. PRMG found Plant City’s existing rates for solid waste collection service will “not remain sufficient to cover the projected costs” over the next several years.
“I’ve had the pleasure of sitting on the board long enough so I understand the difference between having a large rate increase, like we’ve had in years past, as opposed to what’s been implemented since that time, with incremental approaches to raising rates that are very affordable and then being in the position we’re in now because of that physical outlook and I think that’s the appropriate approach, at least from my perspective, to maintain and get ourselves caught up,” Commissioner Bill Dodson said.
The most obvious solution was for the city to adjust the rate by three percent annually for multi-unit and commercial units. This would not alter the residential rates yet.
The rates change from year to year due to the fuel source of the vehicles, the age of the fleet, the time that’s passed since the last adjustment, disposal options and its related fees and the types and frequency of the waste collection.
The city is growing. It’s an undisputed fact that leads to local government needing to take every precaution to ensure the growth doesn’t send the city on a spiral out of control. With projects like North Park Isle, Midtown, Sports Village and many other expansions and new development on the horizon, the city needs to reassess its functions to ensure the new wave of residents won’t cause issues with any current operations.
North Park Isle alone will have a total of 1,251 anticipated units, with 125 of those units coming per year starting in fiscal year 2021. Right on the cusp of the study window, PRMG said there was potential for another major development, which means the city will need to continue to do a routine analysis of the rate to make sure it works with the planned population.
PRMG pulled fiscal year 2019’s budget as a basis for the project, which used $6.7 million before payment in lieu of taxes and included a one percent contingency for unforeseen expenses and 0.25 percent for bad debt allowance.
They estimated in the future the city will need to add one additional equipment operator to man another route toward the North Park Isle growth. That will also come with a new automated side-loader truck, which will be approximately $265,000 around fiscal year 2021.
The company also believes there will be an increase in recycling processing costs and, thanks to cost inflation, the overall estimated operating expense will increase an average of 3.8 percent per year.
The debated recommendations from the presentation, however, were PRMG’s suggestion to consider creating a transfer station or to look into the possibility of switching to automated collection.
Automated collection, if chosen as the future for the city, will convert all new and existing residential consumers by 2022. Up front there are several fees, since every customer will require new carts and the city will have to upgrade the entire fleet to new vehicles. However, once done the improved operational efficiencies will ultimately reduce operational expenses.
The city is in a unique standing thanks to having a flourishing cash reserve. PRMG suggested it use existing cash balances to purchase the vehicles and for other capital costs to help cushion the blow to customers. Then the rates would theoretically stabilize from here on out.
Commissioner Mike Sparkman was against even considering paying to look into the viability of the program.
“From what I see in other counties, I’m completely against this automated type situation,” Sparkman said. “Yeah, everybody has a 94-gallon container, and in some counties, Polk County, Lake County, you’ll drive down the road and you have to dodge them. They leave them out there the whole time, they’re an eyesore and it’s a traffic hazard. I’m going to have to have a lot more convincing before I’ll ever vote for this type of operation in our town.”
Commissioners voted four to one to authorize further study of conversion to the automated collection method. Sparkman was the only dissenting vote. The second proposal was for the city to hire a professional consultant to analyze data in detail to determine if it would be feasible for Plant City to construct a transfer station within its city limits.
Transfer stations are extremely expensive to build. PRMG said in 2015 King Engineering estimated it would cost $13.5 million to create a new station. The city would have to use both existing reserves and loans to fund the creation. It would then cost an estimated $1 million each year to operate the facility.
In the long run, there’s a chance it may lead to savings. The garbage trucks, which are really only meant for neighborhood travel, won’t have to go long distances to the landfill every time they fill up. Instead of having long waits between pickups, they could take the full load to the transfer station, dump it and then turn around and go to the next pickup.
It could lead to savings on truck repair and replacement and also help pickups go much faster. However, much more analysis would need to be done to know for sure.
Sparkman also voiced his hesitations with this option, saying it was quite a hefty burden to put on the city when there was no indiction they were in desperate need. The city agreed it would be best to at least have all the information, so it will hire a consultant for the analysis.