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Clark County commissioners may take up trash issue

Clark County commissioners on Tuesday will have the chance to end years of debate over one of their most contentious issues: trash and recycling pickups.

For at least seven years, the board has been debating rolling back trash pickups to once a week and increasing recycling pickups to weekly.

An attempt to try out the proposal was shot down six years ago. Since then, pilot projects have received positive reviews, and North Las Vegas and Henderson officials have moved forward with it.

The proposal now has the support of several commissioners, including Chairman Steve Sisolak, who said he will push for a vote Tuesday.

"We’ve studied it enough. We’ve talked about it enough," he said. "At some point, you reach the point where you say, ‘OK, let’s vote.’ "

Bob Coyle, vice president of government affairs for Republic Services, the private trash contractor, said the company doesn’t have a position on the proposal, which won’t include a rate change. He just wants to see a decision.

"We’re just waiting for the county to make a decision – do they want to move ahead or not?" Coyle said.

MORE RECYCLING

Under the proposal, residents would get two large bins – one for recyclables and one for trash. Three bin sizes would be available, between 35 and 95 gallons, and, if requested, residents would get a second bin of each at no charge.

Republic Services will estimate the best bin size for a neighborhood, and residents can request a different size based on their needs. The company won’t charge for bin rentals, so residents currently renting will see a bill decrease.

One large recycling bin is undoubtedly more convenient than the red, white and blue bins people now use – residents wouldn’t have to sort recyclables.

But what has upset people in the past is that trash pickup would be reduced to once a week. Recycling pickup would be increased from every other week to weekly. Large items that can’t fit into the bins would be picked up every other week.

When commissioners voted against trying it out in a few neighborhoods in 2006, it was amid a storm of complaints over concerns of garbage rotting in the summer heat.

But the board, with new faces, decided years later to go ahead with the pilot project, and today about 19,000 homes in Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County are on the new schedule.

North Las Vegas has converted to the new program, and Henderson officials voted last year to implement it. More than half of Henderson homes are on the program, with the rest being covered by October.

Multiple surveys commissioned by county officials have shown that residents on the new program like it, with few complaints about the smell of garbage. Most large cities, including ones hotter than Las Vegas, such as Phoenix, have weekly trash pickups.

And perhaps most important, the surveys have shown that residents recycle far more under the new program.

Barely more than 4 percent of solid waste from residential homes makes it into recycling bins in Clark County. But residents under pilot programs recycle at a rate of 23 percent – far closer to the state’s goal of 25 percent.

NO RATE INCREASE

The changes would be made with no rate increase.

Republic Services officials say the new program costs them money – they’ll have to buy hundreds of thousands of bins. But Coyle said the costs will be offset by the increase in recyclables, which the company processes and sells, and a reduction in workers’ compensation claims.

Coyle said the company spends about $3 million annually on injured workers, who he estimates lift several tons of garbage a day onto trucks. With the new bins, no lifting is required: The trucks are equipped with arms that lift the bins and dump the contents.

By comparison, Coyle said the company’s Southern California operation, which he said has a similar number of customers and uses the new bins, spends about $350,000 annually on injured workers.

Tommy Blitsch, secretary treasurer for Teamsters Local 631, said the new trucks are popular with employees.

"It creates a safer work environment where they can work longer into their careers," he said.

But members fear the changes will lead to steep cuts in worker hours, and they want commissioners to do an independent study on how the changes will affect employees.

Javon Jefferson, union vice president and representative to Republic Services, said the new program does lead to more recycling. But it also requires only one person to operate the new trucks. The current trucks require two people.

Jefferson estimates that 200 to 300 employees will face cuts to their current full-time hours. Some already are.

Blitsch said one of the biggest complaints about the new program is that it has fewer trash pickups with no rate decrease.

"They’re losing service and there’s no savings to the customers," he said. "Myself, as a customer, that’s my issue."

Sisolak, however, believes that the pluses of the program outweigh the minuses.

"I think it’s a great thing for the community," he said.

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781.

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