An estimated 2,200 north Spokane garbage customers were informed this week that garbage trucks will no longer drive through their alleys.
The move has sparked complaints among some residents who say street collection makes little sense since alleys were designed specifically for services like garbage. Others wonder if the switch will cause other problems, like parked cars blocking their trash bins.
“We’ve got cars bumper to bumper in the school year,” said Aage Anderson, who lives near Gonzaga University. “We’re all loaded up with students.”
Service changes will start June 4.
Solid Waste Department officials acknowledge the switch might be difficult for some at first. But they argue it will lead to a more efficient system that will keep costs lower. Spokane stopped collecting along numerous other alleys in the 1990s.
“This is about us being responsible with taxpayer and ratepayer dollars,” said Spokane Chief Operating Officer John Pilcher. Maintaining the alley service is “significantly more expensive, and there’s more liability on the city.”
Some alleys were eliminated from service because of obstacles that slowed crews, such as wires and poles, said Alan Milsom, the city’s North Side residential supervisor. Others were affected because they are part of routes that will switch to larger, fully automated trucks.
The city has 11 fully automated routes and three semi-automated routes in north Spokane. The changes will allow the Solid Waste Department to eliminate two jobs by folding one semi-automated route into automated ones.
“We were given a goal to meet to eliminate bodies and eliminate routes,” Milsom told a half-dozen concerned Logan Neighborhood residents at a meeting Thursday morning.
Earlier this year, the city released the Matrix report, a $260,000 efficiency study done by a California consulting group. That report recommends eliminating four trash collection jobs by getting rid of semi-automated routes and three more by consolidating automated ones.
Public Works Director Dave Mandyke said no pink slips will be issued from the latest changes, and anyone who loses a job will be shifted to an opening. He said it is unlikely that changes will be revisited on a large scale.
Joe Cavanaugh, president of AFSCME Local 270, the city union that represents solid waste workers, said some alleys can be hazardous – especially in the winter – and that most drivers support the elimination of the alleys.
However, he said, workers are concerned that consolidated routes could become a safety problem and cause physical hardship.
“Until we sit down and negotiate it, we have a large problem with it,” he said. “They are not making for any allowance for the workload.”
Tim Mauro, who manages an apartment building near Gonzaga, said he’s bothered that citizens weren’t given a chance to provide input. Fliers were distributed to affected houses this week.
“We have a perfectly good alley,” Mauro said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Doug Freese, who lives a block south of Francis Avenue, said some of his neighbors have disabilities. The city will move bins to the street for free for those residents.
“I can’t see how this saves any money or any time by going down the front of the house instead of the back of the house,” Freese said.
Milsom said some alleys were fine, but passageways down a block or two had obstacles that made the route problematic.
“There still are quite a few alleys that are open and will still be open,” he said.
Similar changes will be considered for the south side, though plans aren’t finalized, said Mollie Mangerich, the city’s director of solid waste.
The Matrix report says semi-automated routes, which require two workers a truck, average 387 stops a day compared with fully automated one-person crews that make 647 stops a day.
City Council candidate Donna McKereghan organized the Thursday morning meeting with Milsom and Mangerich. On the sidewalk in front of McKereghan’s home, she asked them tough questions while a supporter took pictures.
McKereghan said she did not set up the meeting for campaign purposes. She said she’s concerned about bins falling into the street and how residents will put cans out after plows push several feet of snow onto the sidewalks.
The Matrix report recommended increasing the pickups for fully automated routes from 647 to 825 so those routes can be consolidated. Mandyke said that number might be attainable in a flat, more packed city, but not necessarily Spokane.
“I’m not fixated on the number,” Mandyke said. “I’m fixated on improving.”