CLEARWATER — After a flurry of angry calls, city officials have opted to delay a pilot program in the Morningside-Meadows and Countryside neighborhoods to reduce trash collection from twice weekly to once a week.
Originally slated to begin Jan. 1, the roughly 2,500 homes in Morningside and Countryside will continue to enjoy twice weekly trash pickups until the city can educate residents about the reasons behind the switch.
The city plans to blanket the neighborhoods with more informative door hangers and hold public meetings.
"I want us to prepare them in a more effective way," said City Manager Bill Horne.
A first round of door hangers went out before Christmas, but didn't lay out the city's case effectively, Horne said.
"The door hanger didn't provide the rationale for what we want to do," he said.
The hangers did prompt about 20 calls to the city's Solid Waste and General Services Department, said director Earl Gloster.
"That would be considered high. The callers were almost unanimously opposed," Gloster said.
Horne received several calls as well, including one man who was so verbally abusive, the veteran city manager hung up the phone, something he said he's done only two or three times in 15 years.
Most of the callers made the argument that if their service is being cut in half, then their bill should be halved as well.
A St. Augustine consulting firm is performing a new rate study, which should be ready by April. But it's too early to tell whether rates will rise or fall, Gloster said.
City officials say the rationale for scaling back trash collection is that it would save the city and residents money, especially in light of the debut of single-stream recycling in October.
Bigger recycling cans and more items able to be recycled — like cardboard, glass and more types of plastic — have reduced the trash in barrels around the city, according to anecdotal evidence. But the six-month pilot, now scheduled to begin in March, will give city officials the hard data to back up their hunch.
If all goes well, once-a-week collection could spread citywide if the City Council approves it.
But the pilot program isn't a soft launch of an already-decided plan, Horne said.
"We've not made the decision to go to once a week. That's the whole purpose of the pilot," Horne said.
Sarasota, Safety Harbor and Key West have made the switch, but Clearwater would likely be the largest city in the state to adopt the change, Gloster said.
No estimates have been made yet about how much the move would save the city, although less fuel, labor and wear and tear on garbage trucks would suggest some savings.
City Council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito said the city should emphasize the "green" aspects of reducing collections. And she's willing to take the political blowback for being the first of Tampa Bay's large cities to scale back.
"Sometimes change depends on who wants to get their hand wet first," she said. "I believe the department has done a fine job. They've done their homework and I trust that."
Public meetings will be held in both neighborhoods after the holidays. Homeowners associations in both Countryside and Morningside have already been briefed, but not everyone attends those meetings, Horne said. The city will also send out another round of more detailed door hangers.
"This is a significant change," he said.
Charlie Frago can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.