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City’s trash can conversion costs piling up

City’s trash can conversion costs piling up

City Council approves an additional $1 million to correct errors made by public works to replace split cans for refuse and recyclables with two, single cans

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – A miscalculation by city staff is piling onto the budget for the city’s conversion from two trash cans to a three-can system. 

At its July 15 meeting, Public Works Director Nick Mascia asked the Visalia City Council for an additional $1 million to complete the city’s switch from a split can for refuse and recyclables to two separate cans, while maintaining a third for green waste. The project was initially approved by the council in August 2018 with a budget of $4.75 million. Most of the budget, $4.64 million, was for a contract with Toter to supply the City with 61,000 new trash cans, convert 13,400 split cans to single cans, and enter all of the new cans into the city’s database. 

Mascia said the additional funds were needed primarily because the city underestimated the number of cans needed and had to purchase 4,540 new cans at a cost of $864,070. The city also underestimated how time consuming the conversion of split cans to single cans would be. Public Works was forced to hire five temporary workers to clean the cans before they could be converted. Converting the cans cost an additional $76,000 including $30,000 to a temp agency, $16,000 for rental of pressure washers, $18,000 for disposal and recycling of residual materials, and $12,000 for miscellaneous supplies and equipment. 

In all, change orders represented a 21% increase to the cost of the conversion, about three times the normally accepted rate of between 6-8% of a project. 

“This is truly a disservice to the public and council,” said Vice Mayor Steve Nelsen. “That’s a huge differential.”

Public Works Manager Jim Ross said the initial count for the cans was taken from city’s billing software and was the “best available data we had.” 

Mayor Bob Link asked if the additional cost would affect the garbage fee for residents. Ross replied that there is no rate increase for refuse being proposed but that could change following a planned rate study as the city has not analyzed its refuse rates since 2012. 

Visalia resident Harold Myers said he was startled by the additional cost due to city staff errors. He called for the council to direct City Manager Randy Groom to conduct a full audit of the conversion project and its cost overruns once all of the cans have been rolled out. 

“There were multiple public articles mentioning there would be no additional cost to the end user,” Myers said. “You misrepresented the true cost of this system.”

The only cost that didn’t seem to bother the council was an additional $83,000 for a public outreach campaign to ensure a smooth transition for customers. Fresno-based Archer and Hound Advertising drafted the language, produced direct mailers, and placed ads in print and online which resulted in a more than 90% success rate on the first attempt to collect old split cans, replace them with single cans, and then deliver the new cans.

“Important information about the project was effectively communicated to Visalia’s residents,” the staff report stated. “They were made aware of the project and what was expected of them.”

The Council begrudgingly voted 3-1 to approve the additional funding and the change order to purchase the additional trash cans. Vice mayor Nelsen voted no and Councilmember Greg Collins was absent.

Even when the issue of ordering additional cans was resolved, there is still an issue with what to do with the old cans. Mascia told the council that the disposal of the old split cans was not included in the original bid with Toter, leaving the city with 30,000 trash cans equaling 750 tons of material to recycle or dump at the landfill. He said the city’s purchasing division is in the process of preparing a request for proposals (RFP) to identify potential recyclers for the cans. That could cost the city as much as $300,000 and will be decided at a future meeting date.

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