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Sanitation plan may be breakthrough

Evanston’s sanitation team may finally have achieved what has seemed impossible — to get a sanitation job done with city workers for less than it would cost to have a private contractor do the work.

Evanston’s sanitation team may finally have achieved what has seemed impossible — to get a sanitation job done with city workers for less than it would cost to have a private contractor do the work.

The Administration and Public Works Committee on Monday night is to review a staff recommendation to have city crews do recycling work now handled by a contractor but contract out refuse pickup work now done by the city crews.

An Evanston Now analysis of the plan suggests it will yield a monthly cost for recycling of a few pennies per household less than the current contract while saving about $1 per household per month on refuse pickup costs.

The plan includes cutting the number of city garbage trucks assigned to the program from 11 to 7 and reducing the number of people assigned to work on them from 13.5 to 7.

Sanitation Superintendent Suzette Eggleston says that because the total volume of material to be recycled is less than the amount of refuse destined for landfills, the city can restructure its collection routes by switching to handling recycling.

The city now runs five two-person refuse truck crews. Because each crew can fill a truck at least twice a day, the city now has the crews swap trucks at midday so they stay busy, and has an extra driver take the full trucks to the transfer station in Glenview.

The new plan would see six one-person crews handle the recycling routes and drive their own trucks to the transfer station.

The city now pays Groot Industries $4.20 a month per household to collect recycling from a total of 19,208 Evanston households.

It appears the cost of having the city do the same work will work out to about $4.16 a month per household. But that’s subject to a number of assumptions about future salary and benefit costs, workers compensation expenses and other variables.

Despite years of cost cutting efforts, this year the cost of having city crews pickup refuse, Eggleston said, is more than 40 percent higher than the average contractor cost in northern Cook County, once equipment maintenance and workers compensation costs are included in the calculation.

Eggleston has also prepared a backup plan for reducing the cost of refuse pickup if city crews continue to do that work. That plan, incorporating suggestions from Dave Matusek, an equipment operator, would switch crews from working four 10-hour days per week to five 8-hour days, restructure the special pickup operation and close the city’s recycling center. Those measures would cut $290,000 from the current cost of refuse collection.

But Evanston Now’s analysis suggests it would still cost about a $1 more per household per month to have the city crews do the refuse pickup work than the average charge of $7.50 per household per month for a private contractor to do the job.

Because the city has filled several sanitation jobs with temporary workers, only seven full-time permanent employees are assigned to the crews now — which happens to be the number needed to staff the recycling work if it’s brought in house.

Aldermen in the past have been reluctant to contract out the sanitation work because of a desire to protect jobs for city workers.

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