Gwinnett officials are looking at a way to reduce traffic, emissions and the number of garbage removal operators allowed to work in unincorporated parts of the county.
Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Director Connie Wiggins said a new trash plan will make a big difference to residents' quality of life.
Here, Wiggins answers a number of questions residents may have about that plan.
Q: How is this different from the way trash service works now?
A: Under the current plan, anyone can ask for and receive permission to pick up garbage in any part of the county. That means that there is no limit to the number of trash providers that could operate in Gwinnett. Residents contract with companies individually, free to change their trash provider for any reason, at any time. The new plan will divide the county into eight districts, where companies will be required to bid on a particular district. Everyone in that district will have the same trash provider.
Q: Why are they doing this?
A: The county wants to limit the number of garbage companies that can operate in Gwinnett. They also want a more efficient system, with fewer trucks crisscrossing the county. That will help the environment and be safer for Gwinnett residents.
Q: How does this affect me if I live in a city?
A: Only Suwanee uses a similar system to Gwinnett's, and the city is considering following the county's lead with the change. All other cities either pick up their own trash or have a single contractor.
Q: At what stage is the trash plan?
A: It's currently being reviewed by the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Department of Community Affairs, which should complete their processes by the end of the month. From there, it goes back to the Gwinnett County commission for final approval. The agencies are not looking at the plan's content, but at how the planning process took place.
Q: Will I have another chance to comment on the plan?
A: No. All public hearings are over.
Q: When will the plan go into effect?
A: It is slated to start in 2009. The new system will likely begin in either July or September of 2009 in order to give companies and customers enough time to make changes. Until the new system goes into place, residents will keep paying their trash haulers directly.
Q: How will I pay my bill under the new plan?
A: Fees for garbage pickup will be added to annual tax bills, which residents pay each year. Streetlights, speed bumps and stormwater fees are charged via the same method. If a mortgage company pays taxes, the amount of money in escrow would be adjusted to cover trash services, as well.
Q: What if I rent?
A: Because the tax bills go to property owners, they will be responsible for paying the fees. How they choose to collect those fees from renters is up to them.
Q: What if I can't afford garbage service?
A: Discounts are offered to senior citizens who qualify for the homestead tax exemption. This is because seniors generate less waste than families. No other discounts are available.
Q: What happens to my deposit?
A: Many trash companies require residents to pay three months in advance for services, and companies are obligated to provide services that they have collected payment for. But the county requires no deposits and any financial agreements made between a company and a customer is between the company and that person. Because of the amount of time between when bids are awarded and when the new plan will start, residents and companies will have plenty of warning to stop payment for service in advance of the change.
Q: How much money will I save under the new plan?
A: That is impossible to tell until companies bid on the different districts. The average cost for garbage pickup, with yard waste, seven recyclables and bulky items picked up, is $24 a month.
Q: How could it cost me less if you're eliminating my choice?
A: Now, trucks crisscross the county because companies are not allowed to refuse service to anyone within the district they're allowed to serve - sometimes, all of Gwinnett. Keeping trucks in a certain area will reduce the number of vehicles needed and minimize fuel costs. That, in turn, should cause the price of the service to go down. The companies will also be competing, still, to have the lowest bid.
Q: Why do I have to have garbage service?
A: Everyone generates waste, which needs to be removed. Using someone else's service is tantamount to stealing it.
Q: Will the same companies that are picking up the garbage now be the same ones doing it next year?
A: Maybe, maybe not. Companies from Texas, Tennessee, Florida and other areas have expressed interest in bidding in some districts. The process will be open to everyone - not just the seven residential companies that currently collect garbage in the county.
Q: So how will you decide who it is?
A: The county will put out a request for proposals, then pick the lowest and best offer for each of eight districts.
Q: What will stop them from raising the prices after they get the bid?
A: There is no automatic escalation clause. Companies can only raise the price of garbage collection with the permission of the county's Board of Commissioners, after a hearing. Prices should remain unchanged for at least the first year or year and a half.
Q: Will everyone pay the same amount?
A: That's still being decided. The service areas may be averaged, so everyone pays the same price, or prices might be determined in each district.
Q: How long will this last?
A: Companies will bid for the districts for seven years.
Q: What are the districts?
A: That's still being determined. Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful staffers are reviewing data to ensure that no neighborhoods are split between districts. The districts will be different sizes, but should have similar populations.
Q: Is this going to put small haulers out of business?
A: While there is no guarantee that any company will have a winning bid, the districts will vary in size to give both larger and smaller companies the opportunity to control different areas.
Q: Can I just keep the trash company I have now?
A: No. Once the new plan is in place, companies will only be allowed to pick up garbage in districts where they have won bids. Those that keep picking up trash where they aren't allowed to will be subject to citations and fines of $500 a day per violation.
Q: What do the other people in the county think of this idea?
A: More than 60 percent of residents said they would give up their choice in order to have more recycling options, according to Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful figures.
Q: What will I get besides garbage pickup?
A: The list of recyclable items will be increased from seven to 35. Yard waste -which some residents now pay extra for - may also be included.
Q: How big of a problem are people who don't have trash service?
A: There are 160,000 households in the county, and 20,000 of them have no garbage service.
Q: Where will the garbage go?
A: There are three waste transfer stations in Gwinnett -in Lawrenceville and Norcross - and one private landfill in Buford. The rest of the county's trash, about 90 percent, goes to Barrow, Banks and Forsyth counties.
Q: Why will it take so long to change the way trash is picked up?
A: Garbage companies that are interested in applying for a district will be able to attend a workshop on the new system this spring, with proposals due in the summer. They will be evaluated in the fall and contracts will be awarded in the winter. From there, the companies will need between six and nine months to get new equipment, verify routes, distribute containers and notify customers.
Q: When will my trash get picked up?
A: That depends on the company. Garbage collection is currently allowed between
7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, though the times may be adjusted.
Q: How big will my containers be?
A: Seniors will get 65-gallon carts, while other residents will get 95-gallon containers for both garbage and recycling.
Q: How do I get the company to do what I want with my container?
A: Things such as whether lids are left open or closed or where the container is left can be included in the requirements for proposals. For suggestions on what should be included, e-mail email@example.com.