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Automated curbside garbage and recycling coming in July

Minimum $12.50 per month combined charge
Johnson County Refuse owner Steve Smith outlines his plans to convert from manual pickup to an automated system for curbside garbage and recycling service during a March 7 meeting of the Solon City Council. Collection with new carts is expected to begin July 1. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– The cost and method of collecting garbage and recycling in Solon will be changing later this year.
At a March 7 meeting of the Solon City Council, Johnson County Refuse owner Steve Smith outlined his plans to convert from manual pickup to an automated system for curbside service beginning July 1.
According to Mayor Steve Stange, city officials were aware of the pending change, which would increase the minimum monthly charge for garbage and recycling to $12.50 per month.
Currently, residential households pay $6.35 monthly for recycling, and $1.25 per garbage tag.
According to Smith, a new cart system has been requested on and off over the years by various councils, but the move now to automation was prompted by lifting injuries sustained by his employees.
One worker was picking up 16,000 pounds every Friday, he told council members.
“Eight tons of garbage every week,” he noted.
His decision to automate recycling was made easier by a change in 2017 when Johnson County Refuse began trucking materials to Scott County instead of Iowa City.
Smith said under his previous arrangement, glass would have to be separated from other recyclables. But at Scott County, mingled recyclables are sorted at the facility.
The proposal presented to council members was a result of discussions with city representatives, he said.
Johnson County Refuse, headquartered in North Liberty, has been the city’s garbage and recycling hauler since 2003.
Smith cited the cost of transporting materials from Johnson to Scott County as the principal reason for an increase he sought (from $5.50 to $6.35) when his contract with the city was renewed in January of 2017.
Under the new automated system, each residence will be provided a 95-gallon cart for recyclables, replacing the tubs which are currently in use.
“It’ll be a big enough cart to hold everything,” Smith said.
Residents will be able to select between two options for garbage collection: A 65-gallon cart emptied weekly at a cost of $18.50 per month, or a 35-gallon cart to be picked up every other week for $12.50.
Tags will only be used for excess garbage at a charge of $3 per bag. Smith asked residents to place the extra bags on top of the cart.
“We would be purchasing the carts and supplying them,” he said. “With that, we would want to have a 10-year contract, like we talked about for the financing we need.”
The carts would carry a 10-year replacement warranty, he added, and would stay with the property.
Samples of all three containers are on display at Solon City Hall.
The end result will be an increase in price for households used to putting only one can of garbage out on the curb, he said, while those averaging two cans a week will save money.
Those who put out only a little garbage each week will probably be disappointed, Mayor Stange said. “But I totally get why it has to happen.”
Council member Lynn Morris questioned storage options for the new, larger containers.
“I’m trying to figure out where I would store them,” she said.
Smith said he hadn’t encountered any problems with residents having problems storing the carts, either inside or out.
City Administrator Cami Rasmussen asked Smith whether garbage needed to be bagged or simply dumped loosely in the carts.
“Personally, I would bag it,” Smith said, adding during windy conditions if the material is loose there’s the possibility of it blowing away as it’s being dumped.
Resident Sue Ballantyne expressed concerns about the size of the carts.
“Especially residents who live in the older sections of town, where we don’t all have nice, big three-car garages,” Ballantyne said. “We’ve got single-stall garages and it’s difficult enough to find a place for the existing recycling buckets and garbage cans.”
She suggested the new rate would have the biggest impact on single people and elderly people on fixed incomes.
“This is a huge increase on those people,” she said. “It almost seems like a disincentive to compost. To reduce, reuse, recycle.”
Stange agreed, noting the cost to minimal users had been discussed extensively during conversations with Johnson County Refuse. The every-other-week service at a reduced price was designed to minimize the impact as much as possible, he said.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I could come up with to try to make the system work,” Smith said.
The same proposal is being put forward to the communities of North Liberty, Tiffin and Lisbon, he said. In Lisbon, Smith said, there were four total bids, all for carts, and his was the only one with a cheaper option for low-end users.
Stange said he appreciated the flexibility in pricing.
“You were very good at listening to our concerns,” he told Smith.
Council members approved the change to automation, with a formal agreement expected in the future.
Rasmussen said the city is still working out some of the details with Johnson County Refuse, including how yard waste will be collected.
She said Solon households would receive a mailing from the city in the next month or so asking them to select a garbage can size, and return their decision to the city.
The first bill for the new combined service rate will go out in July and be due in August, Rasmussen stated.