In an effort to increase efficiency in its solid waste disposal services, the city of Denison is considering transitioning to automated residential trash pick-up. This represents one of several changes to public works that are proposed ahead of the annual budget season for the city.

In addition to the possibility of automated trash pick-up, the Denison is also considering changes to its brush and bulk pick-up schedule to make those services monthly for residents. Officials said these changes could cost the city between $1 million and $1.6 million in capital expenses.

“When I was looking at moving us to automated … the first step was to look at the existing programs and then more from there to make recommendations for the future,” Nancy Nevil, a consultant with Strategic Government Resources, said.

Nevil previously worked with public works for the city of Plano when it transitioned to using automated solid waste pick-up. Under the proposed system, residents would be provided a 95-gallon trash cart to store garbage that is set out for collections. Using a specially designed truck, city workers would pick up and empty the carts using an electronic arm attached to the vehicle. This would reduce the number of workers needed on each vehicle and allow the city to reassign workers to other tasks, officials said.

Similar programs are already in place in Sherman and many other cities across the region.

“Automated service is really what most cities are moving to these days,” Nevil said.

The discussions occurred late last month as part of Denison’s annual budget retreat, where city staff discusses proposed new projects, expenses and capital costs for the next fiscal year. No action has been taken on the proposed changes, and the city council is expected to consider the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget for approval in September.

Under the current fee structure, residents pay $23.33 a month for weekly trash collection, four brush clean up collections a year and four cubic yards of disposal at the city’s residential collection station, along with an annual citywide junk cleanup in April. This does not include an additional $2 charge for recycling services.

For a city of Denison’s size, Nevil said these rates were high, and noted the city could provide additional service for the cost to the customer.

“I know we promoted the free bulk waste and free brush collection, but that is not free,” she said. “They are paying more than enough for these services.”

With the current rates, Nevil suggested the city instead offer its bulk and brush cleanup once a month by making better use of its resources and personnel.

Currently, brush and bulk pick-up is done using a claw truck with little to no compaction effect. Because of this, Nevil said the city has to make more trips to the area landfill than necessary, resulting in higher transportation costs, man hours and disposal costs.

For the month of March, Nevil said the city made more than 200 trips to the landfill for brush disposal. However, with compaction, she said this could have been closer to 30 to 40 loads.

Nevil recommended Denison instead utilize its existing back-loader trucks for brush and bulk disposal due to the compaction effect. With the increased efficiency, she said the monthly brush pick-up could be done within only a few days rather than taking the better part of a month. These routes would be operated and manned using the city’s existing temporary laborers who work with public works.

Nevil said this could allow the city to reduce or even close its residential collections site, resulting in even more savings to Denison. If the station is still used, Nevil recommended the city look into who is utilizing it and for what purposes. Members of the council noted they have heard of professional contractors using the site for the disposal of debris related to home renovations.

The city would need to redefine the terms of its bulk pick-up under these changes, Nevil said. Moving forward, bulk would be described as something that would not fit in the trash bins provided by the city, but could be picked up manually. Special collections, with an additional fee, would be needed for items that would require additional equipment to pick up and load, she said.

Nevil said Denison will likely see complaints early on if it changes to the new automated system, but noted that it would likely diminish over time.

“Within six months, there wasn’t a word (of complaint), and people loved their carts,” she said, referring to when Plano transitioned.

In addition to the changes in its trash pick-up, Nevil suggested the city start an organized effort to educate residents about its recycling program. As part of her research ahead of the recommendations, Nevil said she assessed the public use of the program and found only 58 percent of residents make use of it. Despite the $2 fee, Nevil said the city pays an outside company $2.99 a household for recycling services.

“You are paying a lot of money for Waste Connections just to fly by,” she said.

If the city makes the transition to automated pick-up, it will need to rearrange its current fleet. This would include the purchase of four new automated trucks, while Denison will be able to reduce its fleet of rear loaders and claw trucks from four and three, respectively, to two of each.

This is expected to result in about $1 million to $1.6 million in capital expenses, with $9,000 in additional truck maintenance costs. However, these maintenance costs will be offset by the savings to temporary labor, Nevil explained.