How many garbage trucks does Beachwood need and why it matters.
At the last Council meeting, we were asked to approve spending $376k to maintain our fleet of automated garbage trucks at 7. Five days before the meeting, when I saw this was on the agenda, I sent an email to the rest of Council and our Public Words Director asking to understand why we needed 7 of these very expensive trucks to pick up garbage and recycling from 2,970 homes when Solon provides the same service to 7,748 homes, 2.5x more than us, with only 5 of these expensive automated trucks.
My email also cited our "tipping" data to support my concern that we may not need 7 of these expensive trucks. For those of you that don't know what "tipping" data is, the place we dump our trucks keeps detailed records of each time one of them empties, and the weight of the amount dumped. Most cities have their front-line trucks and then a backup they also use for special pickups and bulk pickups. Their frontline trucks are their workhorses and usually dump at least once on every route day. For instance, in cities that have four-day routes like Beachwood, in the month of March with 19 route days, their front-line trucks are dumping around 19x that month, if not more.
Beachwood's tipping data for March shows that our 7 trucks tipped a total of 40 times, which is an average of less than 6 times per truck, and about 25% of the tips were trucks only filled at half capacity or less. The data provided by the City shows that in the month of March, our 7 trucks tipped 12, 8, 7, 5, 5, 3, 0 times respectively and our newest truck that has only been in service slightly more than a year, was only filled up enough to tip 5 times.
The main responsibility of a Councilmember is to authorize spending. It is our job to ask these tough questions even when it is uncomfortable to do so. Residents expect us to take this responsibility seriously and don't want us to be rubber stamps, especially on things that costs $376k. Here is the video of short part of the meeting where this issue was discussed. I could live with the hostile attitude as long as acceptable answers are provided but that didn't happen here.
Please watch the video because I am not making this up. The reason given for why Beachwood needs 7 automated garbage trucks for 2,970 houses, when Solon, with 7,748 houses only needs 5, is because we give better service than Solon. To support this belief we were told that there were 750 special pickups in the last two months. If you watch the video you will see that Council President Isaacson quickly cut me off before I was about to point out what should have been obvious to everyone who can do basic math...
750 special pickups over 8 weeks averages out to be less than 100 a week while Solon picks up garbage and recycling from 4,780 more houses than Beachwood does EVERY WEEK.
Even if Solon didn’t offer special pickups and bulk pickups for free like Beachwood does, which they do, when they provide garbage and recycling services to 4,780 more houses every week than Beachwood does with only 5 automated trucks, citing a 100 special pickups a week (which Solon probably has as well), to justify why Beachwood needs 7 is an embarrassing argument.
This response is the same two-part response given every time someone questions spending. Instead of answering whatever relevant and legitimate question was asked, first we are told that Beachwood can't be compared to any other city because we are simply better. This is usually followed by being told that they are the experts, we are not, they have a zillion years of combined experience among them so we need to trust that they know what they are talking about. This is the same attitude responsible for our $15m backup fire station with 2x as many private bathrooms as there are fireman on a shift.
I think it is important to point out that Solon residents are very satisfied with their garbage and recycling services. They roll their garbage and recycling carts out to the curb in the morning and just like in Beachwood, they are empty when they return home from work. Solon provides free bulk pickups and extra pickups just like us and they even provide garbage and recycling services to all their school buildings, which we don't. They also will drop off a dumpster for home improvement projects which is a service we don't offer.
The difference is that instead of wasting money on having a bunch of very expensive extra garbage trucks sitting around being used far less than their designed capacity, Solon spends money on things Beachwood residents have openly made clear they want and value, like lighting on side streets and their community recreation offerings/facilities.
We should all be envious of Solon’s recreation offerings and facilities. Not only do they have good fields, courts, playgrounds, picnic pavilions, a stand-alone Senior Center complex, a golf course, etc., they also have an indoor community center complex that rivals the JCC that Solon families can join for $395 a year.
Unlike Beachwood, Solon uses city money to improve recreation facilities on school property as they know these are community assets used by the entire community and not just their schools (My blog post from last year about this issue can be read by clicking here). Solon is constantly investing to add, maintain and improve their community's recreation offerings and facilities and they don’t do this at the expense of other city services. Just like Beachwood, they also have good services like police, fire, snow plowing, garbage, etc. They just use common sense and don't do dumb stuff like having a bunch of expensive garbage trucks sitting around which they don't need to provide the services residents expect.
The garbage trucks are just one example.
Imagine if we spent $5m on a backup fire station instead of $15m (which is probably $2m more than any other city would spend to build a very nice non main station). Think of what we could have done with the left over $10m to improve our community’s recreation fields, courts, playgrounds, facilities, etc.
We now have a law department with an annual budget of close to $1m with 3 full time attorneys and no one can explain why when larger cities and cities with more complex legal issues have a budget half our size.
Imagine if the school’s superintendent had one assistant making six figures then a second well paid assistant and still needed to pay for a PR professional to help them with "communications", like our Mayor's office is staffed? People would rightfully flip out if the schools spent money on things like this which we do and no other city similar to us does.
These are just a few of many examples. It might be a half million a year here, a half a million there, but it starts to add up and it doesn't take long before it becomes real money. I might be naive, but I believe the first step to changing this attitude is to draw attention to it since it is almost impossible to fix something people are fighting against acknowledging is broken. Thanks for your time....