Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Callahan Pitches Single Hauler at West Bethlehem Block Watch

Joe Kelly preaches single hauler inside Church of the Manger
Over fifty people attended a West Bethlehem Block Watch meeting on November 26 to hear Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan and DCED Director Joe Kelly pitch a controversial single trash hauler system. Despite the somber venue at the Church of the Manger, it was a tough crowd that included independent hauler Andrew Prickler. City Council members Bob Donchez and Eric Evans were also in the audience.

Why is the City considering a single hauler now?

A single hauler system is nothing new or unique. Eighty-four per cent of the Lehigh Valley's municipalities already use a single trash hauler, according to Kelly. Mayor Callahan added that, aside from Altoona, Bethlehem is the only City in the state that still uses independent trash haulers. Even Altoona at least has zoned hauling. "We have the most backwards system in the entire state," noted Callahan.

Although Bethlehem has independent trash haulers, a single hauler for recycling has been used since the '90s. "Why do we treat that differently than we treat all the other trash?" asked Callahan.

Since the current recycling contract will expire in October, City officials are now pursuing the possibility of saving citizens money by bidding out both recycling and trash hauling. Kelly added that other services would be included as well, from the removal of yard waste to Christmas trees. The goal, he stated, is to leverage "the best deal we can for the most of us." Callahan added, "My job is to do the most good for the post amount of the people." He stressed that pooling the "collective purchasing power of 75,000 residents" will result in savings.

Kelly explained that, if City Council approves the proposal, a request for proposals will go out in March, and bids would come back in July. "We're not looking to do this in January," stressed Callahan.

Mayor Callahan faces a tough crowd
Will residents save money with a single hauler?

Currently, nineteen independent haulers operate in Bethlehem. The average monthly rate, according to Kelly, is $29-30 per month. That fee, combined with recycling charges, adds up to $410 per year. "We know we can beat that number," said Kelly, predicting that the average household would save about $110 per year.

That figure was disputed by some residents, who claimed to pay much less than $29-30 per month for trash removal.

"You're not going to be saving me anything," said Joan Albus. "People like us are being punished because others are not putting their garbage out."

In addition to the savings at individual households, Callahan noted that hauler payments to the City, instead of tax dollars, would be used to fund the Theis/Cornfeld Recycling Center. That facility has experienced a 40% drop in state grants over the past two years, according to the Mayor.

Will a single hauler mean a cleaner city?

In addition to savings, Kelly added that a single hauler system wold result in a cleaner city. He noted that some Bethlehem residents have no hauler, and just drop their trash along city streets, particularly Central Boulevard. Last year, the City fielded over 1,000 complaints about trash. Kelly told the Block Watch that he has 250-275 photos showing that some people don't do the right thing. "That affects the quality of life in Bethlehem," said Kelly.

Matt Miller asks what will happen to independent haulers
Will this put independent haulers out of business?

Block Watch co-chair Matt Miller asked Callahan about the impact on the City's nineteen private haulers. Callahan claimed he has no animosity or vendetta against private haulers, and acknowledged a "tough impact" on "smaller haulers." But he added, "I don't get paid to protect the private interests of independent haulers."

Callahan added that his proposal will still allow independent haulers for commercial and industrial business, as well as apartment buildings with more than five people.

One of those independent haulers, Andrew Prickler, insisted this proposal won't save anyone any money. He recommended that everyone attend City Council meetings to learn "the truth", and walked out.

Does Bethlehem Want a Single Hauler?

Both Kelly and Callahan referred to a citizen satisfaction survey that Dr. Chris Borick, of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, sent to 5,000 households. He received 1,573 responses. Fifty-six per cent of those surveyed felt that improvements are needed to the City's trash collection. Sixty-five per cent would support a single hauler if it resulted in savings and increased services.

Dr. Borick's survey claims a margin of error of only 3 per cent, but not a single member of the audience was polled. Bill Scheier, a retired statistical economist (econometrist), stated that the return rate on the survey was good. But he told Callahan that an effort should have been made to get opinions from those who failed to respond to the survey.

Callahan is unwilling to let the voters decide this issue as a ballot initiative.

"The public will have no input is what you are saying," noted an audience member.

"Well, you will at the next election," answered the Mayor.

Moderator Gus Loupos informed the audience that there was a petition in the back of the room for those who would like to keep the current system in place. Fourteen of more than fifty people in the audience signed it.

One of them, feisty 85 year-old Kathryn Contrino, told Callahan she only pays $20 per month and doesn't drink soda. Next to her signature, she wrote, "We will remember."

What if Callahan's proposal fails?

Callahan answered that if City Council fails to adopt a single hauler ordinance, it will be their job to find $500,000 in revenue or cuts. He's already reduced the City workforce by 69 people over the past three years. Of those remaining, fifty-two percent are employed in public safety positions.

"If you don't like this plan, you're going to have to think about what the alternative is going to be," he cautioned. "This is a really tough budget."

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

Theses guys are sleazy and loose with the facts. You want them to run the county? Joe kelly, Director of Adminstration?

From the frying pan into the fire for Northampton County.

Anonymous said...

Is that guy doing the Macarena or the Electric Slide?

Anonymous said...

The majority of the city does not care about this. Look at the south side, its a garbage dump. A single hauler should clean up that mess. Government should be in the business of trash collection. Its a public health matter.

Mark Baker said...

anon coward 4:01,

anyone can make baseless accusations and then hide behind them.

6:32 - you are absolutely right. it is a health issue

Anonymous said...

The feisty old lady said it all, perfectly. She's been responsible and thrifty. Now, she'll be significantly punished because the city has failed to keep some neighborhoods tidy. Callahan probably hopes she'll just die soon, so he won't have to hear her dissent.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading that "Andrew Prickler" is a full time City of Bethlehem employee making over $50k in the parks dept.

Speaks his peace then high flies it out the door.

Nothing wrong with having the business but perhaps a qualifying statement of ownership would be the right thing to do?

Anonymous said...

This would be a mistake..What happens when the city has a monopoly and then raises rates continually as it has done on the recycling issue? As I have said before, Callahan won't get council's support for this because they aren't politically suicidal..Then, as I said yesterday and noticed that he, Callahan, said at the meeting, , OK, you come up with the money to balance the budget if you don't support this. You have at least three councilmen running for reelection and two running for mayor..They'd be crazy to support this..The haulers have no worries..

Anonymous said...

No brainer. Who wants different haulers picking up every day of the week? Trash cans in neighborhoods every day picked up by different haulers. It's a joke.

As for rates, there were no rates in Allentown. It was part of real estate taxes. And they picked up everything twice a week. An absolute model for Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

O'Hare, did you ask the mayor why he is against voter referendum?

Anonymous said...

There are lots of concerns with a one trash hauler system.I agree with some of the previous posts that costs to the consumer would sky-rocket.I am also thinking of a more sinister reason of switching to a single-hauler system.I dare not mention it but most of you folks know what it is

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:02, Anon, First, I am not a resident of Bethlehem or a member of the West Bethlehem block watch. The people in that room had plenty of questions, and it would have been wrong for me to take away from their time by interjecting my own questions. Second, the Mayor made it pretty clear why he does not want the public to weigh in on this issue. He feels they weigh in at the ballot box at election time.

Anonymous said...

The mayor is right on voter referendum..If they pass a single hauler system, the voters will toss every councilman who votes for it..That's what's called voter referendum....Evans is right. Most people are happy with their hauler.
Callahan will find this out when he runs for County Executive..

zoid said...

If it ain't broke why fix it. I do not go for that "quality of life" bullshit. Think about the small businesses that currently serve the city and surrounding areas they are LOCAL residents, LOCAL taxpayers they pay EIT, Property taxes, business privilege taxes, gross receipts tax, etc. They contribute to our local economy every day of the year. They are members of our communities. No one is jumping up and down for a single hauler at city council meetings. JC is putting a phantom line item in his budget for this, it is a joke. It would destroy numerous small businesses for what?

Bernie O'Hare said...

10:42, You claim that voters will toss every person who votes for a single hauler, and you might be right. But shouldn't the question be whether this is in the best interests of Bethlehem? Is Council there to bow to pressure or do the right thing? I believe they owe the citizens their best judgment, whatever that might be.

zoid said...

Waste Management does not live sleep and work here!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Is that guy doing the Macarena or the Electric Slide?"

After the presentation, Gus Loupos led everyone in the cha cha slide.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Zoid, I get the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" argument. But if you get 1,000 complaints about trash every year, ain't it broke?

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying they should bow to pressure of a minority of people interested in the issue. I'm saying that the quality of life in Bethlehem is good without having a single hauler and most people like to have choice. If a survey says that they'll get better service at a cheaper rate than of course they'll say yes to that..However, if most are happy with the service they have and they cant trust the city to keep the rate down, then they have an argument..The city shouldnt be trusted..They started the recycling fee at $10 or $20. and have raised it ever since to it's present rate of sixty, even when the recycling grants werent down..I think any Councilman who supports this is crazy personally..

Bernie O'Hare said...

I understand your argument about choice. But I don't understand your point about recycling. If recycling grants from the state go down, as they have by 40% over the past two years, doesn't it make sense that the rates charged to residents would necessarily have to go up?

Seth Vaughn said...

What is not healthy for any city is a one party rule as is the case here in Bethlehem. My hope is the residents of this great city begin to open there minds regarding local candidates rather than just looking at what party is attached after their name. Residents my be surprised how much more representation they my receive!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Seth, I agree that one-party rule, whether Democrat or Republican, is a bad thing. But as I told someone yesterday, I think it would be next to impossible for a Republican to be elected in Bethlehem. Meg Holland did it, so I might be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, Comon man You have better sense Callahan is only doing this to cover the Money He can't account for He's running scared, He is done and He is worried about what will come out if He does'nt cover His tracks..They say Donches is our next Mayor well He hasn't been able to get off the fence in the last 25 years ....We the residents of Bethlehem need to take the city back!!!! We need to find a Republican to run for Mayor....

Bernie O'Hare said...

No question that Callahan needs $500,000 for next year's budget to balance, and that is with a 8.5% tax hike. He has made that clear from the onset, in his budget message.

Right now, real estate tax dollars are being used to fund the recycling center bc the state has reduced its grants by 40% over the past 2 years. I understand that is a pretty popular service. Callahan is hoping to use the money from a single hauler to fund that operation.

Without it, residents will have to pay or it might be closed.

If he can't account for money, then this budget will not help him. Bob Pfenning is Controller and is no friend to Callahan. If he thought Callahan was stealing money, or sending it to places where it does not belong, why hasn't he blown the whistle?

A few years ago, Callahan was robbing Peter to pay Paul, and he was hit over the head mercilessly by Charlie Dent, me City Council and an independent auditor. He has changed that practice, a first for the City in 30 years. In other words, he has learned. And that is the real reason why I have changed from being a harsh critic to someone who is willing to give him a fair shake.

Todd Dietrich said...

As someone who lived in Allentown for over 30 years before moving to Bethlehem, it still baffles me how Bethlehem has 19 trash haulers. In Allentown trash is collected twice a week and recycling once a week (on one of the trash days). The scare tactics being used about prices going through the roof because of a monopoly are unfounded.

Also, Bernie, what is it with the spineless anonymous commenters on your blog?

Anyway, I'll be at the City Council meeting tonight to hopefully hear some common sense being spoken on the issue.

Anonymous said...

Mark Baker = Jim Hickey or Joe Kelly, hard to say.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and we all know how wonderful life is in Allentwon.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Or maybe it's Mark Baker. There is a Mark Baker in Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

Joe Kelly and Callahan look like evangelicals in front of the alter. Too bad they are preaching the word of bullshit.

I fear for the saftey of the Church after God sees how it was used.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the city should pass an ordinance restricting trash collection to a certain day or days; with reasonable flexibility for holidays. It would be similar to ordinances restricting open burning on Wednesdays (i.e. laundry day) to protect hanging laundry from airborne ashes. Let citizens make their own trash collection contracts. They are big boys and girls. Politicians usually assume the worst of their constituents and view them with contempt. It is why politicians are viewed with contempt and mistrusted. In a one party town, however, voters have already indicated a willingness to take whatever passes for government of their city.

Anonymous said...

The city has always been overcharging for recycling and the grants covered most of the costs..The recycling fee always found it's way into other city coffers..Now that grants have gone down , maybe there was a need for a fee increase but certainly not to $ 60.00.

Anonymous said...

9:02, Anon, First, I am not a resident of Bethlehem or a member of the West Bethlehem block watch. The people in that room had plenty of questions, and it would have been wrong for me to take away from their time by interjecting my own questions. Second, the Mayor made it pretty clear why he does not want the public to weigh in on this issue. He feels they weigh in at the ballot box at election time.


I'm not understanding you or the mayor. The referendum would be AT the ballot box.

Anonymous said...

People want choice? With trash haulers? Give me a break. PEople want to carry their stuff to the curb and have it be gone in the morning. After living in Allentown for a number of years, I never once thought about my lack of "choice" of haulers. I put the trash out and it was gone - TWICE a week.

Anonymous said...

4:09,

That's the way you sheep seem to vote, as well. Just follow the herd and never ask questions. Good little sheep. Good little sheep. Baaaaaaa.

Remember: all around a pig's ass is pork. But all around a sheep's ass is ewe.

Bernie O'Hare said...

4:06,

I am not familiar enough with Bethlehem's HRC to know whether initiative and referendum is even an option. Assuming that it is, one would have to ask whether single v. independent trash haulers is such a weighty issue that voters should have the final say. It is pretty controversial in Bethlehem, but I don't know that this is a matter on which people really want to have the final say.

What Callahan was saying is that the people elect people like him and City Council to make these decisions. If the people don't like what happens, their remedy is at the ballot box. We are not a direct democracy.

I thought the Mayor was pretty clear. I thought I was, too.

As a general rule, I oppose initiative and referenda. I do believe the water and sewer lease in Allentown should be decided that way bc the HRC expressly permits it and democracy there is dead. But all too often, these movements give rise to mob rule and demagogues.

Anonymous said...

The issue here is a $500,000 inflow to the Budget. Why is there a profit for the City? Single hauler makes sense. Imagine what the fee would be if the CIty only paased the actual costs through to the consumer. Bernie checks with the municipality and see what their profit is on a single hauler.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The comment at 4:34 demonstrates exactly what happens. People are bullied. They are shouted down by an unruly mob.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Todd Dietrich, I apologize for the anonymous personal attack launched at you. Several trolls infest this blog, and their sole agenda is to prevent meaningful discussion of any topic.

Anonymous said...

Bernie -

A few points:

1) By going to a single hauler, individuals are giving up any chance of being charged for the actual service they use. A elderly senior living along would pay the same as a home with a family of eight living there. Obviously, the trash output is likely much lower for the senior citizen.

2) Residents will never have the opportunity to see their bills go lower. By contracting on their own, they might find a hauler with a lower fee than what they are paying. Not likely once the government is involved.

3) Residents will have no choice as to when their trash is collected. Some might like having it collected on a certain day(s) of the week. With a single hauler, you will be told when it will be picked up.

4) I saw you mentioned 1,000 trash complaints a year for Bethlehem. I'm not sure how many Allentown gets, but I'd guess it is plenty more. An entire bureacracy has evolved to handle questions, missed collections, etc. Those issues are likely handled by the individual customer now, but building the bureacracy will come with a cost.

5) With a private hauler, if you don't like the service you're getting, you make the change. With a single hauler, you're stuck.

6) In Allentown, the trash bill is separately stated and collected with the real estate taxes. Thus I believe that it becomes part of what can make you lose your home if you don't pay on time.

7) Going back to the service issue, the Brain Trust in Allentown shuts down curbside yard waste collection every Thanksgiving. So that means that after the four day Thanksgiving weekend, when many are home to work on their yards, there is no longer curbside pickup. You then have to wait until the yard waste center is open and get it there yourself. Just another example of the customer-friendly decisions made when the government makes the choices and sets the terms.

8) In Allentown, they've actually raised the trash fee to cover FUTURE increases. Want to make a bet as to whether that "extra" money is being stored away for its stated purpose?

9) I'm totally confused by Callahan's comment about having to come up with $500,000 if the single hauler doesn't go through. As another comment mentioned, the revenues collected should equal the cost of the service. Thus, there should be no excess or deficiency. Charging more than the service costs is just a disguised tax.

10) As someone who doesn't live in Bethlehem, I have to say I've never noticed that there was a problem. The city certainly doesn't seem to have an issue with trash strewn about. That would be Allentown, which has a single hauler.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Excellent comment! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:25 pretty well sumed it up. There is really no need or desire by the community for a single hauler. The Mayor through his own incompetence has screwed up the city to the point he needs lots of money to come close to balancing the books. Even with the Casino fees, over wich he promised we wouldn't need a tax increase for "years" to come he has run the city into the red.

This is a gimick just like selling the water and sewer systems. No more, no less.

Anonymous said...

Oh and my name is Todd Harris and I live in Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

Todd Harris, what trash hauler do you operate?

Anonymous said...

Government is good. The Country has spoken. You people harp about "trash" collection but will the USA to tell you when to piss in a cup for your own good. Makes me ill. Everyone here griping about a single hauler keep the neighborhood cleaner and safer system probably voted for 0bama and supports the national healthcare system. Crawl back under your rocks and let the City do what it needs to.

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