Government & Politics

Kansas City trash takeover stalls as council members question potential costs, savings

Chuck Byrd, president of Jim’s Disposal Service, addresses the Northland’s trash issues

Northland trash contractor says heat, staffing and new drivers learning to navigate winding streets contributed to recent service problems.
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Northland trash contractor says heat, staffing and new drivers learning to navigate winding streets contributed to recent service problems.

A proposal to bring Kansas City’s trash collection in-house to improve services for aggrieved residents and shield the budget from skyrocketing costs may be in trouble after it failed to pass a joint committee Wednesday.

Since the 1970s, Kansas City has paid private contractors to collect trash north of the Missouri River and South of 63rd Street. In response to a torrent of service complaints, City Council members are weighing whether to part ways with those companies and expand municipal crews, who already work between the river and 63rd.

Council members earlier this year unanimously endorsed a resolution directing City Manager Troy Schulte’s office to come up with a plan bringing trash service in-house. But his proposal met with serious skepticism from members of the council’s city’s Finance & Governance and Neighborhoods & Housing committees on Wednesday. They tied 4-4 on an ordinance that would allow the city to execute the plan, effectively shelving it for the moment.

City staff are expected to return next month with more information for hesitant council members.

“I don’t think it’s dead,” said Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, 1st District at-large. “What I do perceive is that there (are) clearly council members, I being one of them, that believe that we need to move forward in some fashion.”

Wagner said it would be difficult to go back to residents and say the city was “doubling down” with the contractors it currently uses.

Michael Shaw, the city’s solid waste division manager, said that under the plan the city would spend the next year ordering custom trucks and hiring staff. The city would start collecting trash as soon as the current contract ends on May 1, 2020, a time line Schulte has previously acknowledged would be challenging.

Shaw told council members that in-house collection would save an estimated $20 million over 10 years. Staff have also said the city can improve the quality of service and increase bulky item and brush collection.

But some council members expressed skepticism about the numbers.

Councilwoman Alissia Canady, 5th District, said she’d like to see the proposed expenditures line by line to explain how the city could spend capital on new equipment and facilities and still save money. She noted wages, gasoline and costs to maintain landfills have only grown since the city entered its current contract.

“But what we’re to accept is that we’re going to be able to do it cheaper — do a lot more with a lot more capital outlay, and cheaper,” Canady said. “I don’t see how that adds up based on the information that has been presented so far.”

She also expressed concern about the fate of Jim’s Disposal Services, a local minority-owned firm that serves as a subcontractor in the Northland for Houston-based WCA, or Waste Corporation of America. Collection complaints have been especially heavy in the Northland.

In public testimony, the company’s owner, Chuck Byrd, said his company was being paid well below the average cost per house and that his rate had increased very little in recent years.

Canady also questioned how municipal crews would outperform the contractors, noting that service complaints spiked during extreme weather.

But Councilwoman Heather Hall, 1st District, one of the chief proponents of the plan, said she deals with complaints about trash every day.

“This is a basic service,” Hall said. “Everybody is paying for this. They are paying their taxes, they are paying for trash and they are not getting it.”

Councilman Kevin McManus, 6th District, said the city needs to do something soon and that council members can argue about the exact numbers but he believed the city could improve the service.

“At the end of the day, even if it’s net neutral, to me, that’s a value add for citizens.”

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