(TNS) -- The Caldwell administration is considering switching back to a call-in, by-appointment-only system for bulky item trash pickup on Oahu, Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina said Wednesday.
A six-month pilot project to test the system is tentatively scheduled to start in January, Kahikina told members of the City Council’s Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee. The panel discussed a scathing report on the city’s bulky item pickup program issued by city Auditor Edwin Young last week. The report said the program is beset by untimely pickup service caused largely by excessive sick leave, overtime and leave without pay by Refuse Collection Branch employees.
The pilot project likely will involve a single neighborhood in urban Honolulu, Kahikina told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser after the meeting. That’s where the biggest problems involving bulky items have occurred, she said. The residents in that neighborhood will be told that they will not receive once-a-month bulky item pickup from the Department of Environmental Services. Instead, they will need to call in and request a pickup, which was the system in place until it changed more than a decade ago in hopes that it would discourage illegal dumping.
Environmental Services believes the bulky item pickup system could be run more efficiently if refuse workers were required to go only to the addresses that need service, Deputy Environmental Services Director Tim Houghton said.
Under the current system, bulky item trucks roam street by street in a designated sector on a monthly basis.
“If we feel it’s successful, then I think we’d take it islandwide,” Kahikina said. Being able to keep on schedule, a reduction in illegal dumping and fewer complaints would be among the factors to be assessed, she said.
Changing the policy, even islandwide, would not need Council approval, Kahikina said, but would need to be discussed with United Public Workers, the union that represents refuse workers.
Council Public Works Chairwoman Carol Fukunaga said she agrees it may be time to switch back to a phone-in bulky item pickup system.
“That has a lot of promise, if it results in greater accountability as well as greater reliability,” Fukunaga said. “You know where you’re going, you should know what you’re picking up. And from a consumer standpoint, if you’re calling, you’re associated with an address.”
Modern technology should make it easier for Environmental Services to map out its routes more efficiently.
Fukunaga said other types of software should be made available to the department that would allow it to better monitor and analyze data about employee sick leave, overtime and leave without pay.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Young highlighted some of the key points of his audit:
>> The Refuse Collection Branch is fraught with excessive sick leave and staffing shortages, a situation that could be improved if language in the union contract were to be updated to allow more safeguards against abuse. The 10 employees with the highest sick leave took an average of 74 sick-leave days each during a 13-month period.
>> Between July 2015 and April 2017, 21 employees took over 3,900 hours of unpaid leave, the report said.
>> The shortages have resulted in untimely collections and excessive overtime. During the same 13-month period, 153 employees in the Refuse Collection Branch received $1.7 million in overtime. One received $75,570 in overtime, Young said.
>> Oahu residents abuse the current pickup system, placing their regular refuse or green waste along with the bulky items, creating more work for employees. Young’s office recommended better monitoring and public education.
>> The Environmental Services Department has seven inspectors, too few to conduct effective monitoring and enforcement, the audit said.
Kahikina said she generally agreed with the audit’s findings and is already working to institute its recommendations.
Funding is a key, she said, and she urged Council members to again consider charging homeowners for general refuse pickup. Two separate proposals by the Caldwell administration to impose a $10-per-month household trash hauling fee were shot down quickly by the Council.
A 2014 bill that would have established a yearlong, by-appointment-only bulky item pickup system across Oahu died in committee. Bill 41 (2014) also would have allowed the administration to impose a fee for each pickup.
General revenues subsidize refuse operations by $100 million annually, Kahikina said. “We’re taking that from parks, police and fire,” she said.
While there’s some concern that charging a fee could inspire some to dump illegally along the side of the road, “I think we do need to charge for our services, and not just bulky,” she said. “The level of services we’re providing now, it’s not sustainable.”
Honolulu is the only one of Hawaii’s four major counties that does not charge fees for trash pickup.
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