Niagara Gazette

April 25, 2014

Niagara Falls eyeing trash deal with Modern

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The City of Niagara Falls is considering a new garbage collection and recycling program, one that would allow property owners to dispose of trash and other items in wheeled refuse totes similar to those found in many surrounding communities.

Mayor Paul Dyster’s administration has presented the city council with a proposal to enter into a new, five-year agreement for trash collection and recycling with the city’s current service provider, Modern Corp. in Lewiston. The city’s current contract with Modern expires next month. The proposed deal would run from May 1 through April 30, 2019. 

Dyster said the agreement is designed to not only continue weekly curbside trash collection but ramp up recycling efforts in a community where he admits the practice has been lax for years. 

“We’re committed to getting Niagara Falls on the right track in 2014,” he said. 

Dyster characterized the city’s recycling program — which ranks among the lowest in Western New York in terms of recycling rate — as “terrible” and in need of a more routine and modernized standard of collection.

“It’s certainly the most dramatic change people are going to notice in this,” Dyster said. “Under the city’s existing ordinances, people are required to recycle but in the absence of the proper equipment it’s difficult to enforce. We feel like by modern-day standards our little recycling bins are significantly undersized.”

For years, property owners in the Falls have used rectangular, blue bins to dispose of cardboard and other recyclables. Under the proposed deal with Modern, each household would receive a new 64-gallon trash tote as well as a 96-gallon recyclables tote. 

Dyster said plan calls for the continuation of weekly curbside trash pickup, with recyclable bins being picked up every other week. Dyster said the totes will be purchased by the city using casino revenue. Delivery would begin sometime in mid-June if the agreement is approved by council members.  

Council approval is not a given, according to Council Chairman Charles Walker, who described city cost figures tied to the agreement as a “shocker” and substantially higher than city lawmakers expected. The cost over the course the entire five-year deal could reach $15 million. Under the estimates provided by the company, the city would pay roughly $2.7 million for trash collection and recycling services per year under the agreement. 

Walker said council members are in the process of reviewing the proposal and he would expect them to have questions for the administration at Monday’s council meeting.

“We still want to sit down and really look at the details,” he said. 

From his initial review of the agreement, Walker said it’s clear strengthening the city’s current recycling practices will be key to getting the best value for taxpayers.  

“It all goes to compliance and making sure we stay on top of this and making sure people do what they need to do,” Walker said. 

City Administrator Donna Owens said the new deal adds services for the city currently not offered by Modern, adding that cost estimates are about $500,000 less per year when compared to the 2013 and 2014 values contained in the current contract.  

Owens stressed that costs tied to the agreement are based on estimates from the company and could be reduced over time, especially if the city is able to improve its recycling practices and reduce its costs for refuse disposal in the process. She also characterized the city’s current recycling rate of 4 percent as “terrible” and said it is the city’s goal to raise that rate to at least 20 percent over the five-year period. Employing bins for garbage collection and recycling will improve the overall efficiency of the city’s trash program and contribute to cleaner neighborhoods as well, she said. 

Part of the agreement requires Modern and the city to undertake a multi-month educational campaign to inform residents about items that are eligible for recycling, weekly pickup schedules and the importance of adhering to the new rules. 

“The success of the program will be based on how well we get the information out,” she said. “It’s going to be an ongoing process, but this program has been very successful in other municipalities throughout Western New York.”

City lawmakers have for years been lobbying Dyster’s administration to explore new options for municipal trash pickup and recycling services. Several complained about the length of the process, suggesting it should have been completed sooner by Owens, who came to Niagara Falls in 2008 having served as deputy commissioner of the Atlanta Department of Public Works office of solid waste services.

Owens said the bid process took time to get right and involved research by several departments and coordination with the office of Niagara County Environmental Coordinator Dawn Timm. 

“It takes a long time to get these contracts together because you have to look at best practices and what fits best for your city,” she said. 

Dyster said the manner in which the process unfolded had more to do with coordination and the availability of funds than it did any particular administrator or official. Dyster said the administration wanted to make sure that the new waste disposal contract coincided with the start of an enhanced recycling program. To do that, he said, the city needed a source of revenue to cover the cost of purchasing new totes for property owners. The best source was casino money, which Dyster noted had been tied up for several years amid the recent squabble between the Seneca Nation of Indians and the state of New York. 

“It made more sense for all this stuff to happen at the same time and the timetable was framed around the arrival of the casino revenue,” Dyster said.

“We may be late in the game, but we are going to try to learn from the lessons of others and move toward a first-rate system here,” he added. 

City lawmakers are scheduled to consider approval of the new trash collection agreement during Monday’s council meeting. The council will hold an agenda review at 5 p.m., followed by its formal meeting at 6 p.m. Both sessions are held in council chambers at City Hall, 745 Main St. 

Contact City Editor Mark Scheer at 716-282-2311, ext. 2250.