KC councilman Fowler leads change in trash service

Even a city council member in Kansas City hasn’t been immune to the trash issues that have plagued the Northland region.

Second district councilman Dan Fowler was one of the driving forces behind the city’s passage of an ordinance in March to bring the city’s trash collection in-house starting as early as May 2020.

In his first public meeting with Platte County residents at the quarterly Donuts with Dan event earlier this month, Fowler, Mayor Sly James and Forest Decker fielded questions and gave an update on the process.

A contract with WCA Waste Corporation is set to expire in less than a year and last fall the city took bids for the service. The numbers delivered quite a jolt to those downtown as the price nearly doubled from about $5 a house to more than $9 a house.

The combination of higher costs and higher complaints about Jim’s Disposal Service — a subcontractor for WCA in the Northland — led to the city looking at other options.

The city already handles trash service from the Missouri River down to 63rd Street so now it will cover the areas north and south of there.

“Seventy-eight percent of complaints (in the last year) related to trash and recycling collection came from the contract crews,” Michael Shaw, solid waste division manager, said in a press release issued after the council made the change.

Shaw told council members in-house trash collection would save the city nearly $20 million over a 10-year period.

“The city crew is taking over and I’m very happy,” Fowler said. “We will take it over and the results our city crews had and the way they are supervised and trained are heads and shoulders above what we are seeing out of our contractors. The city manager (Troy Schulte) is a master of our budget and he said we could do better, not only in price we could do better, but in terms of quality too. That is abundantly obvious.”

Decker noted that cost savings includes new workers, nearly two dozen trucks and a new, expanded location — which the council still needs to approve.

The city still has a contract for recycling with WCA through 2024 and this new trash service won’t affect those services. Fowler noted the city is trying to address that issue as well, stating 70 percent of the recycling in the city is in the Northland.

Fowler noted the day of his event his trash hadn’t been picked up and his recycling was still sitting out in a blue bin as well.

Quite a few audience members asked why the service got so bad?

Fowler noted there are a variety of reasons but provided his thoughts.

“Two years ago the owner of Jim’s bought a restaurant at 18th and Vine and also a pecan farm in Georgia and also runs summer festivals, BBQ festivals, in other cities like Wichita,” Fowler said. “The city manager said you can set your watch when the trash services started to decline … right when he bought those. My own theory is when he did that, he diverted attention to his new venture and left someone else to run his business.”

Fowler noted Shaw spent two weeks at Jim’s and didn’t see the owner — Chuck Bird — once.

“I have no patience for that,” Fowler said. “It makes me boil to see it happen. Trash is something you put out and know it will be gone. He doesn’t seem to care.”

Jim’s also added service in three metro cities, the closest in North Kansas City, where they pick up twice a week, in addition to the Northland coverage area.

Last July, Jim’s had between 4,000 and 5,000 complaints to 311 just in the Northland. Eventually the CEO of WCA came to Kansas City and met with council members but not much came from it.

Other meetings followed and Fowler noted one included hearing that the trash crews weren’t getting paid enough.

“You bid the rate, you have poor service but you want me to pay you more?” Fowler recalled of the meeting. “He bid it. He came up with the price … He came up with the price and he is complaining.”

Decker noted the solid waste division will hire about 75 new employees and will have to hire 23 specially licensed drivers to run routes. He said one crew could hit between 1,000 and 1,200 houses a day. The city will do the trash service for about $7 a house.

“He fought hard and was unyielding,” James said of Fowler’s push on the issue. “We gave them (WCA) an opportunity to explain themselves and I didn’t think they did very well. They were climbing an uphill battle and they better convince the council to go along with them and if they did, they must’ve been saying something right, but they didn’t convince them.”