Place the trash and recyclables at curbside in the morning and roll the carts back after they have been emptied. It happens every week for more than 30,000 homeowners.
But it almost didn’t happen about two weeks ago in Cowesett. A combination of truck breakdowns delayed pickups and the city came close to postponing completion of the route until the following day.
In a press release issued Thursday, the city administration cautioned that because one sanitation truck is out of commission there could be delays in collections.
That one truck had been used as a reserve to cover for breakdowns.
But the issue goes deeper than a single truck. The city’s fleet of 14 sanitation and recycling trucks is aging and on average experience two breakdowns daily, said Richard Crenca, director of Public Works. Keeping the trucks going and completing the routes has depleted the department’s overtime budget and put pressure on the maintenance staff.
It may be some time before the city gets a new truck, too.
In an interview Monday, Ward 5 Councilman and Council Finance Committee chair Ed Ladouceur thought there are other ways to ensuring collections without rushing out to buy a new truck.
Saying the city is faced with numerous issues and that taxpayers face tough times, Ladouceur suggested scheduling of preventive maintenance at nights, a review of collection routes and, even if it proves practical, reducing collections from once a week.
“We’ve got to do more with less,” he said. As for the specific truck that is out of commission because of a blown engine, he said, “why not buy a new engine? It’s got to be a lot less [than a new truck],” he said.
“There’s ways to solve things with a little more efficiency and doing things more effectively,” he said.
Crenca appeared before the Council Finance Committee with a lease purchase bid for a new truck costing $267,000 last fall. The committee didn’t take it to the full council. Ladouceur said he wanted to see how the department would fare. The committee also held off on the Fire Department request for another engine and bids for police cruisers.
In order to complete sanitation and recyclable routes, Crenca said crews have had to double up and cover for one another. In some cases when recycling trucks have completed their routes, they are turned around to collect trash. He said the department has overspent its $65,000 overtime budget by $3,200 in the first seven months of the fiscal year.
Yet even if the finance committee and council go along with a lease purchase, the city won’t be out of the hole.
“It’s not like something you pick off the shelf at Home Depot,” said Crenca. After the award of a contract, Crenca said the city won’t see a new truck for six to nine months. It could be October before the city gets a new truck even if a contract was awarded now.
“Residents are asked for their patience as all parties work towards an amicable compromise to address the issue,” reads the release issued by the administration.
Asked how he would handle Crenca’s request for a new truck at this point, Ladouceur said he’s “not signing on to a new truck in the foreseeable future…we’re not going to rubber stamp bids.” He said he wants a clear picture of the city’s financial first.
“We need to be sure we can afford these things,” he said.
Ladouceur commended the council on its attention to finances, pointing out that it approved a budget without a tax increase. He said, “the well is only so deep...we need to protect the dollars in the taxpayers’ pockets.”