A new solid waste contract will save Morrisville more than $45,000 a year on trash and recycling pickup and will reduce residents’ expenses by a small amount.
But town officials passed up the opportunity to save more than twice as much by switching to a schedule that most other Wake County towns already use. By picking up recycling every other week instead of weekly, the town could have saved more than $121,000 a year.
The council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to keep the weekly recycling schedule, with Mayor Pro Tem Liz Johnson and council members Vicki Scroggins-Johnson, Kris Gardner and TJ Cawley in favor.
Mayor Mark Stohlman voted against the plan along with council members Steve Rao and Michael Schlink.
Over the course of the 10-year contract with Waste Industries, the biweekly plan would have saved $1.21 million compared to $454,000 with the weekly plan, a difference of about $756,000.
“That money can be put to other uses, and I think it’s a shame to let it go,” Stohlman said.
Unlike many towns, Morrisville funds its solid waste through property taxes instead of a separate fee. The current average cost for trash and recycling is $16.42 per month. If the council had chosen the biweekly plan, that would have dropped to $11.55.
Instead, the average taxpayer will contribute $12.68 per month or $44.88 a year, a savings of $3.74 a month.
The council also approved minor changes to the recycling service.
The current 65-gallon recycling carts will be replaced with 96-gallon carts, and the 18-gallon boxes will be phased out entirely. The new carts also will have computer chips embedded in them to allow the town’s staff to monitor how often households recycle, and how much.
Officials will monitor that data to see how to increase recycling in town. Town staff say about 65 to 70 percent of Morrisville residents recycle.
Uncertainty about change, coupled with the possibility of inconveniencing residents and discouraging recycling, convinced the majority of the council to keep the current service.
“We’re very successful in Morrisville with providing a weekly service,” Scroggins-Johnson said. “We’re number two in the county.”
Only Cary, which is on a biweekly pickup, recycles more, with 27 percent of its total waste recycled, said Morrisville Director of Public Works Blake Mills. Morrisville recycles 26 percent of its waste, Mills said.
Several council members who voted for the weekly plan also discussed homeowners associations’ aesthetic concerns.
With a biweekly pickup, Cawley said, forgetting to put out recycling just once would mean the bin would sit for a month. Stohlman said he thinks residents would be able to remember.
“I’m going to give our citizens a lot of credit on being able to figure out the schedule,” he said. “The highest number of Ph.Ds in Wake County – I think we can do it.”
Cawley also warned them not to be too eager to cut costs on such a common service.
Debate wasn’t just limited to the council chambers. Arguments about both options spread through neighborhood email chains and Facebook groups.
“It appears there’s been a great social outcry,” said Morrisville resident Curtis Smith, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting and reminded the council that the biweekly plan had been recommended by the town staff.
Gardner said he ultimately voted for the weekly plan because the residents he talked to mostly wanted to keep it. It’s not much more expensive for individual households, he said.
“I think there are pros and cons on both sides, no question about it,” Gardner said.
There are potential opportunities for change in the third, fifth and seventh years of the 10-year contract.
Assistant manager Tony Chiotakis said after several years of data collection from the new computer chips, the town will know which neighborhoods to target with pro-recycling educational materials. The data could prompt a switch to a biweekly pickup.
If that were to happen, people who recycle more than average trash amounts could get a second cart for free.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran