Trash pile-up ‘out of whack’ says concerned councilman
Uncollected garbage around West Memphis becoming a health issue, Public Works officials agree
Just ask anyone one the West Memphis Public Works Commission, and it’s unanimous — uncollected trash is everywhere.
The sanitation issue has become a health issue according to city council members at Tuesday’s Public Works meeting. Commissioners heard a status report about the unkempt conditions city-wide and also examined high-tech solutions.
City Engineer Amanda Hicks admitted the piles in her neighborhood were out of hand.
“Grass is growing through my tree limbs waiting to be picked up,” said Hicks.
City Council members Willis Mondy and Lorraine Robinson surveyed the city Sunday and saw trash piled up in all quarters.
“Trash is backed up three weeks and I am not exaggerating – we stopped and talked to people and took pictures,” said Mondy.
“The stuff is smelly, turning brown, snakes are in some of it, not just in one spot, but all over the city.
Some set there so long the grass is growing up through it. Some has been out there three weeks and I mean close to four.”
Councilman James Holt concurred.
“My phone is blown up with photos of uncollected trash,” said Holt.
Hicks said complaints about maggots and vermin had been received as well and pointed to prioritizing the work to catch up. With all in agreement about the current state of trash collection Hicks presented short term and long term remedies. Trash is curbside debris like tree limbs, while garbage was defined as household and kitchen waste put into bins for collection. Hicks prioritized.
“What’s important in the city, is it garbage, residential garbage, industrial garbage which is a lot of food waste, or is it roadside trash?” asked Hicks. “We categorize which is more important. We have a lot of catching up to do. We are very behind on the trash. If we lose control over canned and Dumpster garbage, that’s when you got animals with roaches and rats.”
Councilman James Pulliaum joined Mondy and asked for overtime hours in the sanitation department.
Sanitation workers received a raise this year and overtime became more restricted to afford the pay bump.
“The roadside trash is out of whack, so what about weekend overtime?” asked Pulliaum.
“We are limited by the hours at the landfill,” said Hicks. “The landfill is not open on Saturday. A lot of times what happens Friday the truck gets filled out and we leave it until Monday.
We are using daily overtime to catch up.”
New expectations to get the job done efficiently and on regular time received resistance from workers. Injuries have sidelined some of the crew and the work also slowed because of equipment sabotage according to one councilman.
“I know you had to fire a guy for doing something to a trash truck,” said Mondy.
Two trucks went down around Easter needing the same part. City crews struggled to keep up trash collection without all the equipment, and the city engineer authorized overtime. Now a rash of driver accidents and work related injuries have slowed trash service. With workers unavailable, sanitation began advertising a hiring campaign. Hicks recapped workers safety. Injuries have hobbled the work force.
“If you look at our safety sheet we have three workers off on workers compensation not there at the end of last year. We had three employees injured in the month that needed medical attention. There were three incidents that sanitation employees damaged private property and had to go for a drug screen. We had two incidents this month with sanitation workers involving city property. So that was five employees in a five day period that had to fill out incident reports and go for drug screens. When it rains it pours. If a workers comp claim comes up we follow those rules to the ‘T’, we cannot deviate just because we need a warm body in the seat.”
In contrast, the entire street department operated safely for the month.
“As far as our street department, we have had no workers compensation claims, no employees injured on duty and no private or public vehicle incidents this month,” said Hicks.
Department leadership focused on sanitation efficiency to keep in line with the operating budget.
“Because of the issues we are having we began measuring tonnage in trash,” said Hicks. “Three truck per day ran on average through the end of May.
The tonnage has stayed consistent even against the overtime last year. We are keeping up with the same amount as last year without constantly using the overtime. We will continue to monitor these trends.”
The streets remain piled with trash. The engineer asked permission from the commission to be part of a pilot project bringing smart technology to each truck.
The Rubicon program will be absolutely free to the city for a six months as the company tests its new platform on the sanitation fleet. The equipment takes pictures, flags locations, dispatches alerts, and provides drivers with real time route management and supervisors with GPS location of each vehicle.
“They just want our feedback on the system,” said Hicks.
“This is the greatest thing we need if we really want to improve our results,” said Pulliaum.
“Most big companies are using GPS routing, I think its smart to take a look at it,” said Taylor.
“I think it will be good for fairness and accountability,” said Robinson.
Commissioners looked at improving another work condition, approving the city paying for uniforms for sanitation employees. Sanitation was the only department required to contribute toward uniform expenses.
By John Rech