The debate over the City of Fort Smith’s Automated Refuse Collection Program (ARCP) isn’t over. Not by a long shot.
Baridi Nkokheli, Director of the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation (DOS), faced an estimated 60 citizens, primarily from the Park Hill area, at an informational meeting Monday night (April 23) in the Rose Room at Creekmore Park.
In March, Park Hill East residents fought for a return to manual refuse collection after four months of the automated service. At the March 6 meeting, the City of Fort Smith Board of Directors voted 4-3 in favor of returning to manual although a formal survey showed a majority of residents in the area preferred automated collection.
City Director Andre Good, who voted against the move back to manual, was in attendance at Monday’s meeting.
When asked about the board’s decision in relation to results from the survey, Good said he felt the “democratic process was totally ignored.”
Good continued: “For us to spend taxpayers’ money on surveys to get the information that the majority wants, we totally ignored it at the cost of a minority of citizens in a particular area that do not want the service, and are unwilling to try the program as we have it outlined.”
Good felt the board “totally shut out people in those areas, who still want it,” he added.
On Monday, one audience member asked Nkokheli the overall cost of the Park Hill East debate. The DOS Director said “it has cost this department $41,000 in additional expenses.”
The 2012 departmental budget allowed for $700,000 in funds to complete the entire ARCP expansion.
“And it’s still going up,” Nkokheli added. “That’s just to address Park Hill East. Forty one thousand dollars. Surveys cost over $6,000 by themselves, and then we had to collect containers and rent trucks to move back to manual. Our staff has put in 80 hours of overtime. And it doesn’t count the surveys we’re mailing out Friday.”
In contrast, according to Nkokheli’s calculations, the move to automated collection has reduced workers’ compensation claims, which totaled $225,349.01 on 48 claims, since 2006.
Working under the ARCP, Nkokheli said there have been “no injuries—not a one. Because of that, our rates have stayed the same for five years. My hope is that after completion of the program, I can come back to the board with a possible rate decrease, but that remains to be seen, and depends on whether or not we are going to stay with manual collection.”
While Nkokheli admits “nothing will go up for 24 to 36 months,” he noted that manual collection trucks cost much more to operate, “getting less than 1 mile per gallon,” he said.
Nkokheli also noted that with automated collection, each man on his team could service “about 950 to 1,050 households” while two men under the manual system could reach an average of just 650. The DOS services 28,673 Fort Smith households, or roughly 7,000 per day of operation.
Following Nkokheli’s informational presentation, the questions and comments came quickly.
Some citizens voiced their concerns that senior citizens would be unable to operate the wheeled containers, which are “33 pounds empty, 200 at full capacity,” Nkokheli said.
One audience member felt the cart was “too bulky for someone, who doesn’t produce much waste,” to which Nkokheli replied one could “get by on a bi-weekly basis” since the containers are built to keep out wildlife and keep in odor.
Another noted the high replacement cost of $78 per container, which Nkokheli believed could be alleviated through reduced personnel costs and “a 20- to 25-year lifespan on the container itself.”
Still others weren’t convinced the large containers added any aesthetic value and felt the objects could “reduce property values.”
Ultimately, Nkokheli said he is prepared to support the board’s decision on what to do about the remaining ARCP expansion.
“This is my passion, and it’s what I’ve devoted 34 years of service in sanitation for, and what our department is about.”
Nkokheli continued: “We’re here to please the citizens we work for — it’s my goal, my co-workers, and the intention of the board as I understand it. We’re trying to do more with less and find the most cost effective and productive way possible to do this without passing additional costs to our customers.”
The next two informational meetings will be held on Tuesday (April 24) and Thursday (April 26) in the Rose Room at 6 p.m. A new round of surveys will go out on Friday to gauge residential interest for automated collection in the following areas:
Howard School Addition
Belle Grove Historic District
May/Lecta/Sweet Historic District
Park Hill North
Park Hill South
Duvall School Addition
Fitzgerald East/Fishback Historic District
Other residences without neighborhood designation