Sorry Dallas, but generous bulk trash pick-up program may be changing

The Dallas Morning News

Dallas officials say the city’s bulk trash and brush collection service is a mess.

So, too, are the proposed fixes, City Council members said.

The council didn’t reach consensus Wednesday after Sanitation Services Director Kelly High briefed them on proposals to revamp bulk-and-brush collection service.

High said the program, as it exists now, is "significantly more generous" to residents than what is offered elsewhere. His complex proposals are aimed at cutting back on collection and creating volume limits to reduce waste and strain on sanitation services.

The suggested overhaul is more than a year in the making. The latest briefing comes as the sanitation department struggles to keep up with rising demand for bulk-and-brush pickup, leaving unwanted stuff piled up along neighborhood streets.

"We’re not on track right now because part of the problem is we have stressed these resources to where any time we have a hiccup, now we’ve got a problem," High said.

Dallas currently collects about three times as much bulk and brush per household than San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth and Houston, city officials said.

A city field survey showed that the majority of residents aren’t the problem. About 73 percent of the city’s residents only used the bulk-and-brush collection service once or twice a year. More than 55 percent of the material collected was yard waste and brush. And 85 percent of residents set out fewer than five cubic yards of junk.

Those residents in the majority would presumably be unaffected by some of the options, one of which included collecting brush and yard waste monthly and bulk trash quarterly. High also proposed limiting set-outs to 10 cubic yards of bulk trash and 35 cubic yards of brush and yard waste.

High said requiring separation of bulk and brush, as other Texas cities do, would avoid the current commingled jumbles, the likes of which could include used sofas, dead tree branches, sacks of leaves and discarded bedroom dressers. The current system makes it difficult to divert some recyclable or reusable materials from a landfill.

High said the changes could save the city millions in the long term. Residents currently pay $25.18 monthly for sanitation services, a fee that could increase if the trash keeps piling up.

Other parts of the proposals included a temporary drop-off site for residents, which High said could cut down on illegal dumping.

The litany of possibilities and schedule changes left some council members frustrated. Council member Lee Kleinman said his "head is, like, exploding" reading through the options that he didn’t like.

Kleinman wanted an on-demand service. He said the current system, in which most people barely use the collection service, justifies the on-demand idea rather than the current way of doing things.

"Something is really broken in this model," he said.

Council member Tennell Atkins said he’s concerned about the effects on his southeastern district, which he claimed has more trees and different needs. His colleague Kevin Felder agreed and said the city has "to look at this differently." He suggested considering privatization.

Mayor Mike Rawlings said he wants a system to acknowledge that "we can’t do everything in every place."

"I’m afraid you’ve got a little bit of everybody’s got to be equal here," Rawlings said. "And we’ve got different people who need different things."

Council member Scott Griggs said he wanted more data before he votes on any changes.

"Many people feel like, ‘This doesn’t work for me, this doesn’t work for my neighbors and this doesn’t work for my community,’" Griggs said. "And we don’t have the numbers to dispute that."

North Dallas council member Jennifer Staubach Gates said she’s heard "a lot of confusion about what we’re proposing, as well as a lot of, ‘Don’t change what we’re doing already.’"

Rickey Callahan, who represents Pleasant Grove, said he’s had "restless" residents based on the emails he’s received and wants "a better system."

Far North Dallas council member Sandy Greyson said she wants to take up the issue again at the Quality of Life and Arts & Culture Committee, which she chairs.

"I don’t think we’re ready, clearly, to move forward," she said.

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