“Measure twice, cut once.” Words of wisdom from my seamstress mother and woodworker father.

The March 25 Public Works FY21 budget proposal is to purchase two automated trash collection trucks — for use only in some areas, to mandate large capacity carts everywhere and to again raise the city collection fees. City staff has rushed necessary planning while providing no input opportunities for crews or ratepayers that would have provided our community with what it wants and needs.

This proposal should be rejected as the Resilient Community Advisory Commission recommended to City Council.

1. Given the COVID-19 impacts on the financial security of our incomes and savings, the City Council would be reckless to approve charging ratepayers $1,900,000 for equipment most of us do not currently want or need.

2. The proposal is contrary to the $30,000 consultant’s 2019 assessment and survey results: “Does the 35-gallon trash can or bag meet your needs? Yes, 78%. What do customers value most in your current city collection system? Curbside collection of trash options, 70.82%, and low-cost disposal, 36.38%.”

3. The proposal is out of sequence with the FY22-FY25 development of a city comprehensive 10-year solid waste management plan. There is no current pressing or justifiable reason to commit FY21 to this huge collection and ratepayer behavior change.

4. The proposal undermines our pay-as-you-throw policy, which delivered outstanding results in waste minimization. Dubuque had the best per household beneficial diversion of recyclables from landfilling in Iowa.

5. The proposed fee structure, which eliminates the option to set out a 35-gallon trash can and replaces it with a 48-gallon city cart as the standard, does not provide much of an advantage to people who don’t generate enough trash to need a larger container and does nothing to urge people to waste less. Additionally, the increase is not equitable across all neighborhoods, as residents living in non-automated collection areas would still pay the higher fee.

6. The proposal is out-of-step with the Dubuque Comprehensive Plan: “Strong partnerships require two key elements — people and planning. Willingness to find common ground and focus on shared visions and values is critical.”

What the Dubuque Community needs to do:

1. Keep the base fee as an up-to 35-gallon customer can or bag.

2. Reduce poverty impacts and affordable housing costs by reducing the huge negative impact of high collection fee increases and the continuing abandonment of pay-as-you-throw incentives. Previously, Dubuque provided lower cost collection services than surrounding communities. Now it is among the highest in Iowa.

3. Restore pay-as-you-throw savings with approved cart cost-sharing options. All ratepayers, but especially renters in multiplexes, should again have options to share city carts, with shared cart fee savings, reducing resident cost and the set-out footprint. A few years ago, elderly renters in a six-plex shared one cart, had no overflow problems and each renter saved about $8 per month.

4. Initiate an inclusive, transparent solid waste comprehensive planning process in FY21 to give needed guidance, using actionable data, on solid waste management goals, timelines, outputs, responsibilities, reporting and operational choices.

5. Introduce semi-automated, 35-gallon cart (122# max) and 48-gallon cart (168# max) options, where it makes financial, operational and environmental sense to rate-payers.

6. Table the $596,260 purchase of two automated side loader collection trucks, $280,000 for 7,000 48-gallon tipper carts and the new proposed 7.68% fee monthly increase of $1.20 to a $16.82 base fee.

7. In the future, implement a sustainable community automated collection design — where it makes sense. The city staff designed proposal should be rejected for FY21 funding by City Council.

Schultz, now Green Dubuque president, was solid waste management coordinator for the city of Dubuque for 18 years. He can be reached at paul@greendubuque.org.