COLLECTION: Cities Seek Outside Collection Advice To Meet Demands

The city of Memphis, Tenn., is presently under analysis; Norfolk, Va., is also.

These cities are not undergoing extensive medical or psychiatric treatment. Instead, these municipalities have turned to consultants for professional advice on how to efficiently run their collection operation.

With reduced budgets and greater demand for extended services such as recycling, yard waste and organics collection, municipalities are finding themselves in a bind. And to some, advice from consulting firms is the way out.

While in the midst of implementing automated collection, the city of Norfolk, Va., decided to hire outside services to tell the city's waste managers if they were going in the right direction.

Norfolk's Waste Management Supervisor, Louie Jordan, was hired in 1992 to complete what his predecessor began in 1988 - semi-automated collection.

"It just wasn't going right," Jordan said. "I wondered if going back to manual collection would be best." Unfortunately, he said, his downsized administrative staff of five was not enough to evaluate productivity, a collection manager's top concern.

After approximately two months of data collection and two more months of analysis and meetings with residential focus groups, Jordan was presented with the hard facts:

* Too much time was wasted in the morning for check-outs;

* Substantial imbalances in city routes existed. For example, one truck with a good crew would finish its route by noon; another truck with the same amount of households served would finish by 3:00 p.m. As a result, the first crew finished would go back on the streets to help the slower crew. This, Jordan said, was a waste in resources. Too many trucks were out on the road and some collection crews were worked harder than others; and

* Vehicle maintenance needed improvement.

The analysis led to a $90,000 reduction for the next fiscal year, Jordan said.

According to Dave Bullock, vice president of GBB Solid Waste Management Consultants, Falls Church, Va., several factors can motivate a city to hire a consulting firm to conduct a detailed collection analysis, including:

* Costs;

* Recycling and other extended services;

* Reluctance to cut city positions; and

* Fear of privatization.

The city of Memphis, Tenn., has hired GBB for a collection analysis.

"We wanted to perform a broad and comprehensive collection analysis on routing, equipment, maintenance, labor agreements, administrative procedures and overall organization," said Paul Patterson, administrator of solid waste management. "To do the analysis in-house would have taken too much time."

Patterson looked for a consulting firm that had been successful in past projects similar to Memphis; had in-house expertise; had a well-prepared how-to-tactic; and had the ability to work with the city's deadlines.

Not knowing how to prepare for long-term growth also prompted Patterson to seek outside services.

"All cities in Tennessee must reduce waste by 25 percent by 1996," said Patterson. With this in mind, Patterson said this was the ideal time for him to look at what his city is doing and what could be done.

"As cities grow, if you don't monitor the growth in relation to routes, then there will be an uneven distribution," Patterson said. "You don't want to have some routes having more stops than others."

With a dramatic increase in disposal costs, the city, maintaining its eye on the future, also has been reviewed for a unit-based pricing system. Overflow of solid, yard and bulk waste also will undergo outside analysis.

"Municipalities are feeling a desire to be thorough," said Dave Ross, senior vice president of SCS Engineers' regional office in Long Beach, Calif. As a result, he said, work that traditionally was prepared in-house, such as bid specifications, is now being contracted to consulting firms.

Simply put, he said, there are more decisions to be made. Automation, recycling, flow control, MRFs and transfer stations are just a few of the choices Ross cited.

Often a change in leadership can spark the desire to reevaluate an operation or, according to Vice President Gore, to "reinvent government."

A newly elected mayor, for example, may open the doors to privatization. For these reasons, Ross said, municipalities are increasingly turning to consulting firms for technical and financial advice.

When looking for a consulting firm, Ross advised caution when developing the request for proposal. Define tightly what you want looked at and the end-product you want to achieve, he said.

If all goes well, said Jordan, a cost-efficient operation will be the end result.