City commission discusses equity of garbage collection fees
July 26, 2021
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
The Gainesville City Commission held a special meeting on July 21 to consider whether the existing Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) system (different rates based on the selected tote size) is equitable.
Sylvia Warren, Acting Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity, said that the data provided to her office was insufficient to determine if the existing system is inequitable, so staff recommended collecting data to support the review.
Ben Howort, who was hired as an Equity Specialist but is now DEI Manager, said they want “to make sure that the usage is in alignment with where the carts actually are, and we can align demographics for race and income to the actual cart size and what people are paying for.” He said they attempted to correlate the locations of the actual carts with census information, and they “ran into issues with that process and correlating that data.”
City Manager Lee Feldman said they would need data down to the household level: who is living there, household size, demographics, income, etc. He said he wasn’t sure how the City would be able to get that level of detail: “This would be an extremely complicated data analysis to accomplish, and it is probably outside the scope of what we can do internally with the other work that we have. So we would probably need to figure out who to contract with and at what cost.”
Commissioner Harvey Ward said his hope was to reach out “to everyone who has a garbage container, and letting them know there are options.” He wanted a plan from the Manager’s office to contact everyone and tell them that if they’re not filling up their totes, they can downsize and save money, and they can also save money by moving up to a larger size and not having to buy the extra bags.
Commissioner Reina Saco said she supported staff’s recommendation to do a “deeper dive” into the data collection.
In response to a question from Commissioner Gail Johnson about the fees, Feldman said the idea behind PAYT is that the City pays tipping fees based on the number of tons sent to the landfill, so PAYT encourages people to use smaller containers to save money for both themselves and the City.
Johnson said they also needed to talk about the number of recycling bins and yard waste, since the fees for those services are included in the garbage fee, and people with smaller yards don’t put out yard waste and thus subsidize those with bigger yards. Feldman said he didn’t know of a way to determine how much yard waste any given home puts out.
Ward moved that the commission direct the Manager’s office to bring them, within 90 days, a plan, with costs included, to engage every garbage container user, to help them best use the City’s collection service, recognizing that several charter officers will need to be included in execution of such a strategy. Hayes-Santos seconded the motion.
Saco said that although the motion didn’t deal with data collection, she wanted to be “sensitive” to asking how many people live in a residence or their race because “a lot of folks, for a variety of reasons, whether they’re renters who are only supposed to have 3 people in there, but, you know, a cousin is now living—whether they’re undocumented, whether a relative who’s not supposed to be on the lease is staying there—There’s a number of reasons why people are afraid of data gathering, and the last thing I want us to do is create a public record noting—there’s a number of black families that live on this street.”
The motion passed unanimously. Hayes-Santos then moved to adopt the staff’s recommendation to collect more data but also look at why people have selected different carts. That motion also passed unanimously.
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