BROOKSVILLE — County officials know that any time they make a change in a fundamental service such as garbage collection, they're going to hear about it.
So this time, they decided to first ask residents whether they want to go to a new trash collection system, one that could be implemented countywide and that is expected to save money and expand recycling.
Voters will be asked on Nov. 2 whether they want a universal garbage, recycling and yard waste collection system. The vote is nonbinding, and the commission and county staff plan to build a new garbage collection system around the results of the vote and the results of bids from garbage haulers that will be received later this year.
"This is an advisory vote, and we don't know how it's going to turn out," said Joe Stapf, the county utilities director. "This is the commissioners' way of attempting to gain insight into what the public thinks."
County Commissioner Dave Russell coined the phrase "cleaner, cheaper and faster" last week as a way to promote the new collection system. But also during last week's meeting, the commission got a firsthand look at some of the issues a universal, automated trash collection system might create.
At the request of commissioners, a senior citizen in the audience was asked to try to move one of the rolling trash cans up the incline in the commission chambers. She did so reluctantly and with some help, indicating that she wasn't a big fan of the big cans.
Officials know that is one of the issues that some residents will be concerned about, but they know there will be others as well. Anticipating questions and confusion, staffers are preparing a barrage of educational information — on the county's website, through newspaper inserts, at community group meetings, on the government broadcasting channel and in news releases — to tell people about their options.
The issue of changing the current system is timely because the county extended franchise agreements with existing haulers one year — until Sept. 30, 2011. Utilities officials were busy getting the new cell at the landfill completed and opened and didn't have time to deal with new franchise agreements in recent months.
That new $9.5 million cell opened for its first load of trash last month.
When Stapf spoke with haulers, they all explained a system that they considered the most efficient. That system would use specialized trucks and waste receptacles, which would allow a driver to pull up to a can and have the equipment lift and empty the can into the truck, much like commercial trash bins on a smaller scale.
The pickup plan would include three collections per week — one for garbage, one for recycling and one for yard waste — which may or may not be on the same day. (The city of Brooksville has its own garbage, recycling and yard waste collection systems and would not be affected by any of the county's proposed changes.)
Currently, the county is divided into five solid waste collection districts served by three haulers that have franchise agreements with the county. The franchise system has been in place sine 1987, and the current contracts have been in place since 2000.
In 1986, a countywide referendum mandated trash collection in portions of Spring Hill. Later, curbside recycling was added in those areas. Waste Management won the franchise and now provides twice-a-week garbage and every-other-week curbside recycling pickups.
The rest of the county can contract with the hauler assigned to its area and pay that hauler for garbage pickup service. Approximately 76 percent of the eligible properties in the county have their garbage picked up.
While the bids for garbage collection will not be in until after the referendum, county officials are predicting that the proposed new collection system would save people $20 to $25 per year.
Some savings would come from the lower labor cost for the haulers. Only one driver is needed to operate each of the automated trucks. Also, if residents across the county vote in favor of the new system, the need for the county's two convenience centers would disappear, saving an annual cost of $1.3 million.
That amounts to savings of $12.41 per household in the solid waste assessment that property owners pay on their tax bills each year.
Additional savings could be realized by making the garbage collection cost part of the property tax bill. That would alleviate the cost of billing through the haulers. Stapf said that will be a separate item considered by the County Commission next year when commissioners talk about the solid waste assessment.
Another saving from the proposed automated system would be in the amount the county would have to set aside in preparation for building the next cell at the landfill. A countywide recycling program would mean far less garbage going into the current landfill cell, extending its life.
Approximately 75,000 tons of residential trash lands in the landfill annually. Only about 4,800 tons of trash is recycled. Samplings from the landfill show that about half the material dumped there could be recycled.
"I don't think there is any question that we need to have less trash and reuse more," Stapf said.
The statewide goal by 2020 is for 75 percent of waste to be recycled, said Scott Harper, the county's solid waste services manager.
Officials realize that the countywide service might not be attractive to those who currently take their trash to the landfill or to a convenience center. They plan to examine the outcome of the referendum vote on a precinct-by-precinct basis to determine where they might set up the new system. It could be implemented in some parts of the county, and not in others.
The haulers have also been asked to provide bids with a number of options. Officials plan to analyze all of that information before presenting proposals to the commissioners.
The awarding of the contracts is expected early next year.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.