Blue bag

Blue trash bags

Residents are reacting — positively and negatively — as the date nears for a private refuse and recycling collection company to take over service in New Castle.

New Castle City Council signed a three-year contract with Aiken Refuse for more than $6 million in November 2019 to provide services to the city.

Beginning in April, residents will prepay quarterly for tags to stick to any bag of their choice — five tags will cost $16 per month, 10 tags will cost $23.50 per month and 15 tags will cost $31 per month.

The price for each tag includes a “base collection fee,” which accounts for labor, fuel and maintenance, as well as the costs to dispose of the refuse and for the tag itself.

Matt Aiken of Aiken Refuse said $8.50 of the base price accounts for leaf collection and recycling. Tags will be $1.50 each, which is essentially the landfill fee. The price for just five tags will be $7.50, 10 tags will be $15 and 15 tags come at a cost of $22.50.

“I know a lot of residents are upset over the cost of the new garbage collection procedure, however, our household has been spending much more for blue bags since we are no longer allowed to recycle most things,” said Erika Young, an East Side resident.

Kystalynn Anderson, also an East Side resident, is unhappy with the price increase.

“The cost, honestly, is the biggest concern,” Anderson said. “I use one bag every other week, so I’m spending like $5 on garbage, and now I’m expected to pay three times that.”

Under the new program, recycling will be unlimited and will be picked up every other week.

That makes the price worth it, Young said.

“Our household cares about the environment and would like to recycle as much as possible, and (we) do not mind paying a little more for the great service we look forward to receiving,” she said.

Aiken Refuse has placed a maximum weight of 40 pounds for each bag, but Aiken said the garbage collectors will not be actively enforcing the rule.

“We aren’t going to have people weigh their bags,” he said. “As long as my guys can pick it up and it’s not falling apart, then we’ll pick it up. We had to put a number on it.”

Some residents are concerned about theft of tags once trash bags are placed out for collection.

“(The tags) will be ruined and unusable if they’re removed,” Aiken said.

Since the bill for the service will be sent to property owners, landlords will be responsible for paying for tags for renters. Whether it will affect rent prices will be up to individual landlords.

During a presentation to council, Michele Nestor, president of Nestor Resources Inc., a consultant for the city, said one of the reasons why the price for the service is so high is due to the risk haulers have with potential delinquent garbage bills.

“In a place where there’s not a lot of history of people paying a monthly bill for waste collection, in a new contract, the people bidding see a much larger risk than if we had a history here of paying by the month,” Nestor said.

The city has used a pay-by-the-bag system since the 1990s.

Anderson said one of the parts of the current system she likes is the convenience of buying bags at brick-and-mortar stores.

“You pay for what you use,” she said.

Anderson’s ideal garbage arrangement would be a “free market,” where each property could decide which hauler they would like to have to create competitive prices. She also would have liked to see the city negotiate the price with Aiken.

While some residents wonder why an unlimited option was not explored, Nestor explained the chance of having non-residents dumping their garbage into the city was “very likely.”

“(Non-residents) would just dump things because they would know that there were no restrictions in the city, and that anything at the curb the hauler would have to pick up,” said Nestor.

Nestor’s preferred program for the city was a base rate along with two garbage cans. If the city did the billing for the service, she explained, the service would cost around $15 per month. If a private contractor did the billing, it would have cost $30 per month.

The difference in cost accounts for the risk of nonpayment.

As for using carts like the ones in Shenango Township, it would be more expensive, Nestor said.

“I’d love to provide those kinds of services here in the city of New Castle, but the cost for that service here was just very prohibitive,” she said.

Since the city would have to purchase the carts, about $1.7 million would go on the bottom line before even considering the cost of the service, which would have run about $40 a month, Nestor explained.

Bags with tags will be have to be placed on the sidewalk, not in garbage cans. Taking bags out of cans increases the time the truck is at each home, Nestor said.

As part of Act 47, every resident has to participate in garbage collection, which essentially eliminates the current pay-by-the-bag system.

Nestor said the city wasn’t making enough revenue to sustain the service by buying new equipment. Plus, she said, an increase in price was inevitable.

Aiken will send welcome packages to residents in February to give them time to send in payments and will include a color-coded map to show which day residents’ garbage will be picked up.

Reporter

Maria Basileo is a news reporter. She covers Laurel and Shenango school boards and municipal government.

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