|Joe Kelly preaches single hauler inside Church of the Manger|
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|
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|
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."