Columbia Citizens Want More Interaction From Local Government

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COLUMBIA - A group of Columbia citizens rallied this month to oppose a change to the city's trash collection methods. Citizens Opposed to Roll Carts sent a letter to Mayor Bob McDavid as well as each member of the Columbia City Council explaining its stance opposing the city's possible change to roll carts from trash bags.

Randy Raymond helps run the group with six other Columbia citizens.

"Richard Schenker, he organized several meetings of just people just kind of put out an announcement and said, 'I'm opposed, and if you're opposed, let's get together' and so that's how it got started," said Raymond.

The group chose seven people willing to dedicate time and effort to educate the public on their concerns with the potential change to roll carts. The group conducted two public meetings, collected hundreds of signatures on petitions, met with City Manager Mike Matthes and the public works staff and spoke twice at the open comment section of city council meetings.

Most recently, the group sent letters asking city officials to respond with their opinion on the change to roll carts.

The group has several concerns with the switch to roll carts. The main concerns are the cost, possible lack of storage space for the carts, and potential difficulty rolling the carts in bad weather or due to a citizen's physical limitations. The group said the proposal to switch to roll carts contains several changes that should be addressed separately.

"They have the change to roll carts in this, switch from bags to roll carts. They have changing the trucks to compressed natural gas. They have going to automated arms in order to pick up the roll carts," said Raymond.

He added, "So there are a number of those issues, we aren't saying that they are necessarily bad, but we think they deserve more information. Whatever the city staff is using for information, it would be good if we had that information."

In its dealings with the city, Citizens Opposed to Roll Carts has continually asked for more information, especially regarding the cost analysis of the proposal. The group said the city has not made a businesses plan for the roll cart system accessible to the public.

The city approved a pilot program to test roll carts in September. Six hundred residents would test the roll cart system, 200 volunteers and 400 residents in selected areas that may provide some geographic problems. The city says the pilot program will cost about $7,000. The city estimates the initial capital outlay, or start up cost, of completely switching to roll carts would be $5.8 million, about $3 million for new trucks and $3 million for the carts.

Columbia's Solid Waste Utility Manager Richard Weiman drew up the proposal along with General Manager John Glascock. Weiman said changing to a roll cart collection system will save residents and the city money in the long run.

"We are always evaluating cost in various programs. The roll cart system looks like there is a significant advantage as far as cost to residents. We are looking anywhere from $0.88 to $2.00 in reduction in the monthly fee. That is pretty significant when you are talking about 33,000 households," said Wieman.

"If you look down the road, that cost savings will actually be even greater because we will be able to effectively service more homes with the same number of people...The operational cost for the new system will be essentially the same as we have now," Weiman added.

He said the pilot program is meant to help identify solutions to many of Citizens Opposed to Roll Carts' concerns.

"We are trying to do a really broad spectrum to get good experience. We know what identifiable issues we are aware of and the PILOT is designed to address those," Weiman said.

Citizens Opposed to Roll Carts insists Columbia government officials should educate and interact more with the public on this issue.

"Simply provide us the information they are working from. For example, financial analysis and the information they used to prepare the evaluation for the switch to roll carts... There is a lot of information in that report that indicates they have some analysis, some fiscal analysis, of what the costs are. And we are simply asking, let us see that," Raymond said.

The group said it did not receive responses to its letters to the mayor and city council members, but said it will not give up.

"This is what citizens have to do when they face something they are opposed to. Unless we intervene, it will not change," said Raymond.

Citizens Opposed to Roll Carts will present its concerns at the pre-council meeting November 5.