Bartlett eyes affordable yard waste collection

The dilemma of yard waste disposal — the retrieval of it, how much service to offer, and the funding of it — was the focus of a Sept. 14 Bartlett city board work session. Mayor Keith McDonald urged the board to consider all sides of the issue and update the ordinance soon.

City records show one set of guidelines on the city’s website and different information in Bartlett’s actual ordinance. McDonald is calling for the board to align the information in both places and ensure it represents what the city actually does. He also said the city needs an economical solution.

“We can do whatever you want to do,” McDonald said. “We just have to be able to pay for it.”

He reminded board members that the sanitation fee goes into an “enterprise fund,” meaning it is supposed to pay for itself. Sanitation is not included in the rest of city taxes. The city has begun to pay for capital as it should have all along, he said. Instead of buying it through bonds, Bartlett has begun to pay cash out of the solid waste fund. That change has brought attention to a funding issue with multiple facets.

During the recent recession, the department deferred equipment purchases as much as possible, according to Mike Adams, assistant director of Public Works. These days, it is having to phase in purchases of new equipment along with needed repairs to old equipment. And if citizens’ demands for yard waste pickup are met, even more equipment would be needed (probably double what’s currently available).

Adams noted that the current household solid waste fee is $25 per month, and it is intended to cover collection, household garbage, yard waste carts, yard waste debris, BFI debris and tires for the city’s 19,875 solid waste customers. At this fee level with the current equipment, there are limits to how much debris can be collected each week.

He estimated that meeting citizens’ needs would mean collecting two heaping pickup loads of yard waste weekly (about 12 cubic yards) per household. But that’s more than the current practice, which allows pickup of one such truckload weekly for a maximum of three weeks.

Putting that service increase into action at current fee levels would be challenging. Even with the lower current collection practices, the Solid Waste Department is projecting a revenue shortfall this year.

A memo from Adams noted that last year the Solid Waste Department came in under budget and provided all solid waste services to residents for $24.71 per month per resident. This year, the projected cost to provide all such services to residents will be $26.54. That’s $1.54 per month per household over the current fee revenue.

Another facet of the yard waste collection dilemma is what to charge for excessive yard waste. Currently, citizens who exceed the three-week maximum of pickups can hire a contractor to remove it, bring the waste to the Solid Waste Complex themselves, or call the city’s Solid Waste Department for a cost estimate of a special collection.

The city’s actual cost is currently $160.48 per load. Adams recommended a special collection fee of $350-$400 per knuckle boom truck load. The increased fee would keep the city from competing with private companies and also protect the city’s disaster recovery reimbursement from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency).

McDonald explained the FEMA issue: The city’s relatively low cost of yard waste collection (compared to private companies) could reduce how much FEMA will pay for debris pickup in the case of a local disaster. FEMA will not pay more than the city normally charges, but the city’s current rate doesn’t include the extra fees the city would incur for additional personnel, additional hours and additional equipment in the case of a disaster scenario.

Some companies have decided to use a paper trim extraction system to collect any waste into a more contained area making the area look nicer.

One thing the city has tried recently is a renewed emphasis on charging citizens for excessive yard waste.

“We were getting so many citizens who were putting out so much yard waste that Public Works was trying to find a solution to how do we tell these people,‘That’s too much. We can’t get to this,’” McDonald said.

Public Works is authorized to provide notice of excessive yard waste and have the Finance Department bill the citizens, so the city tried that avenue first. After about a dozen such cases, citizens began calling City Hall with their concerns.

While trying to work through this topic at the Sept. 14 meeting, some of the board’s other considerations included:

  • How lingering piles of yard waste will detract from the city’s looks and possibly harm property values. The city’s current practice of collection weekly for up to three weeks means that sometimes owners have large, unattractive piles of yard waste at the curb for weeks.
  • How citizens with large properties have the same yard waste limitations as citizens with much smaller lots.
  • How higher costs of yard waste disposal are likely to discourage people from keeping their properties tidy.
  • How some contractors just pile debris on the curb instead of including removal in their cost estimates to customers, adding to the city’s workload.

With these factors in mind, the mayor and city board have to grapple with meeting the citizens’ needs for yard waste pickup as the city continues to grow and residents continue expecting premium city services and the lowest possible taxes.

The board is expected to take up this issue again soon at a future meeting.

CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to