Small Town, BIG Plans

ALTHOUGH THE CITY OF KISSIMMEE, FLA., population 49,000, is not a booming metropolis by any stretch, it has made a big commitment to managing solid waste.

Four days per week, a team of just seven drivers pickup solid waste, making 500 to 700 stops a day. This amounts to two drivers, working eight to 10 hours per day, running daily trash routes and scouring the town to scoop up old sofas and bulk materials. Plus, two more drivers each collect yard waste from routes of 1,200 houses.

In total, the city sanitation department services 11,611 residential customers, 524 short-term rentals and 357 commercial accounts for whom 90-gallon carts prove sufficient. From October 2001 through September 2002, Kissimmee's 11 drivers picked up more than 18,000 tons: 13,000 in refuse, 3,800 in yard wastes, and 1,800 in bulk wastes, according to Rich Raffaelo, sanitation superintendent.

The department of 18 employees has been operating for more than 20 years. In that time, Kissimmee's population has grown from 15,000 in 1980 to 30,000 in 1990 to its 49,000 people today, Raffaelo says.

Small Fees

To collect trash and yard waste day-in and day-out, Kissimmee charges residents $11 per month, at least $1 less than any municipality in the region, says David Derrick, assistant director of the Department of Public Works, which houses the sanitation division. The city also charges a whopping $11 to remove the first 2 cubic yards of bulk waste and $5 per yard after that.

While the dollar amounts may sound small, the fees generate approximately $4 million in revenues per year, which is placed in an enterprise fund to cover wages and salaries, rent for offices, technology and maintenance. At the end of the year, there is usually enough left over to pay capital equipment costs for items such as fully automated collection trucks, Derrick says.

“We operate just like a business,” he says. For example, similar to a video store, residents are charged late fees. If residents leave trash cans on the street long after trash has been picked up, someone from the sanitation department will move the can off the curb and take it into the garage — but for a $5.50 late charge that will appear on the monthly sanitation bill.

The fees collected by Kissimmee come from residential customers and franchise fees paid by Waste Management Inc., Houston, which handles larger commercial bins and roll-off pickups. In addition to funding collection services, the $4 million helps the city to provide free solid waste and yard waste containers to residents and drop-off stations for recyclables.

All told, residents pay a pittance for trash service in Kissimmee, Derrick says. Unlike enterprise operations in some cities, Kissimmee's sanitation division does not compete with private haulers. Nevertheless, Derrick tracks bids submitted for hauling and disposal work in neighboring cities. “Every other city in the region bids out sanitation services,” he says.

Automation for Performance

Prior to Derrick's arrival in Kissimmee in 1995, the sanitation fleet had been poorly managed, Raffaelo says. “The vehicles were falling apart,” he says. “We were holding them together with duct tape, and they weren't automated.”

As a result, Kissimmee was paying sky-high worker's compensation and truck maintenance costs.

During the next six years, at Derrick's urging, the department used the enterprise fund to buy nine 28-yard automated Heil side loaders with Volvo (now Autocar) cabs and chassis to handle refuse and yard waste. Two 24-yard grapple trucks with clam buckets pickup bulky waste.

The automated trucks cost approximately $148,000 each, about $28,000 more than the older trucks, none of which were automated. “You can buy an automated truck for about $10,000 less than what we're paying,” Derrick says. “But we went with a lot of amenities.”

For example, Kissimmee's trucks provide air-conditioning, air seats and stereo radios to keep drivers comfortable. The trucks also have dual camera systems that monitor the hoppers for inappropriate trash. Videos run on monitors inside the cabs. When drivers shift into reverse, the cameras automatically swing around and broadcast the area surrounding the rear of the truck.

The savings from automation's efficiencies helped pay the extra $28,000 per truck, Derrick says. With the older, conventional fleet, drivers worked alone to throw the trash and covered only 200 to 300 houses per day. The new trucks have nearly tripled productivity and have enabled the division to handle the city's growing trash collection needs without increasing fleet size or the labor force much, he says. Workers' compensation claims subsequently have fallen. And thanks to the cameras, accidents have declined as well.

The automated fleet also has helped to reduce driver turnover, a costly problem for many trash collection operations across the country. Since 1999, Kissimmee's sanitation division has hired only three drivers.

Last year, Raffaelo hired a driver to accommodate the city's growth. The year before, a driver with 15 years of service moved away and had to be replaced. In 2000, Raffaelo hired a driver to replace himself, when he was promoted to his current position. So in three years, Kissimmee's sanitation division has turned over just one driver.

The Fleet the Drivers Bought

Much of the credit for the low turnover goes to the automated equipment. But management purchased the trucks only after consulting drivers for advice.

Once the decision to automate was made, Derrick and Raffaelo invited major vendors to Kissimmee to show their products. “Our drivers demo'ed the trucks,” Derrick says. “They critiqued the different automated systems and thought about how each would work along our streets.”

While a truck is being built, the chosen manufacturer imprints individual names of drivers on each Kissimmee truck. Once a truck is complete, the sanitation division flies the driver to the factory, where he inspects the truck and drives it back to Florida. “This gives the drivers pride of ownership in their vehicles,” Derrick says. “That alone helps to cut down on wear and tear.”

Standardizing Costs

Kissimmee not only has automated its fleet, it has also standardized its fleet, purchasing 28-yard bodies and cabs from the same manufacturers. This has helped to slash maintenance costs, Derrick says.

The Department of Public Works operates a welding and hydraulics shop, called weld shop, which maintains Public Works equipment. When the sanitation division purchased its automated waste trucks, it also hired an additional employee for maintenance. The sanitation division also fitted out the weld shop with equipment such as two engine lathes with digital readouts and a three-axis CNC million machine.

“This enables us to fabricate parts for repair and to create optional parts that we can't afford to purchase new,” says Craig Harless, weld shop manager.

Equally important, weld shop personnel stay in touch with the equipment manufacturer. Once a year, the crew visits the factory and takes courses on the advanced hydraulic systems. The company then certifies the crew to perform warranty work on its trucks. The advanced training enables the maintenance crew to repair vehicles in-house about 99 percent of the time, which has reduced truck downtime, Harless says.

Standardization also has enabled the weld shop to stock inventories of commonly needed parts, which helps to keep trucks on the road. And the maintenance crew's knowledge has led to cost-cutting modifications. For example, lift cylinders on the waste trucks require a special seal that costs $260 when bought from the factory. But weld shop technicians have since figured out how to re-machine hydraulic cylinder components to accept standard seals. “That has reduced a $260 cost to $17,” Harless says.

Overall, standardization and the new maintenance mentality has led to substantial savings. In 1995, the year before the new system was implemented, Harless budgeted $130,000 for sanitation vehicle maintenance and repairs, but spent $218,000. In 1996, the year the sanitation division began standardizing, Harless budgeted $190,000 and spent $166,000 on maintenance and repairs. Two years later, in 1998, with more than three-quarters of the fleet standardized, Harless budgeted $139,000 and spent just $111,600. Between 1995 and 1998, the annual cost of hydraulic repairs fell by $107,000 — despite the addition of more sophisticated hydraulic equipment to the fleet. And maintenance costs have continued to decline.

“Currently, our maintenance and repair costs are running less than $100,000 per year,” Derrick says.

Derrick says he has proof it costs Kissimmee less today to do a better job of picking up trash. Every two years, the city polls 400 randomly selected residents about the quality of city services. In the 2002 survey, 370 people rated Kissimmee's waste collection services “very positive.” Another 28 people rated the services “fairly positive.” So 398 of 400 people asked liked what Kissimmee is doing, Derrick says. One person didn't respond. And, yes, one guy complained.

It may be true that you can't please everybody, but it probably would be difficult to do any better than little Kissimmee.

Michael Fickes is Waste Age's business editor based in Cockeysville, Md.


Services and Service Area: Residential, commercial and bulky waste collection within the city of Kissimmee, Fla., city limits.

No. and Types of Trucks: 11 automated Heil/Volvo (Autocar) side loaders with 28-yard bodies; 2 grapple Ford/Petersen trucks with 24-yard dump bodies.

Containers: Zarn 90-gallon containers. 2 containers are issued to each residential account: 1 brown for household garbage, and 1 green for yard waste.

No. and Types of Customers: 10,730 residential; 357 commercial; 524 short-term rental; and 671 commercial bin customers are serviced by Waste Management Inc., Houston, through a franchise agreement.

No. of Employees: 18

Most Interesting: The welding and hydraulics shop has been instrumental in finding ways to reduce maintenance costs and truck downtime. Most repairs are handled in-house.