City takes steps toward outsourcing trash collection

Officials look at privatization as cost-saving option

By Sarah Pridgeon

The future of garbage may still be up in the air for Crook County, but the City of Sundance will be forced to make changes to its own garbage services before any final decisions can be made. The Moorcroft landfill will no longer be available after June, which means a new solution must be found – at least temporarily.

“We’re going to continue operations as we do now for the rest of this budget year. We can go to Moorcroft with our trash until July 1,” says Public Works Director Mac Erickson.

“On July 1, we’re going to start hauling to Gillette.”

At that point, Erickson has opened the bidding process for a private company to take over for at least the next year. The intention of privatizing garbage in the short term, he explains, is to get rid of the liability of the old and failing city garbage truck.

“It’s been nickel-and-diming us and things are going wrong with it. We either need to buy a new garbage truck or look at having someone else doing it for us,” he says.

Erickson estimates that a new garbage truck would cost somewhere in the region of $200,000. With such uncertainty surrounding garbage in Crook County, that’s a risky investment at this time.

From initial estimates, it appears that the cost of privatizing will likely only increase a small amount from the cost of the city operating the garbage, Erickson says – though, of course, that won’t be confirmed until the bids are opened at the end of the month.

If that’s the case, says Erickson, “In 2018-19, that same dollar amount [we budgeted this year] would cover the private hauling, but until we see the bids we’re not going to know exactly.”

The cost of hauling to Gillette will be $80 per ton, compared to $58 per ton in Moorcroft. Until recently, Gillette had not seemed open to accepting garbage from the city.

“They’re open to it now – they’ve changed their permit area so they can accept our trash,” Erickson says.

If private hauling doesn’t work out as hoped, Erickson says, the contract will simply not be renewed for the next year.

“We’ll go back into business with buying a garbage truck. The city will still own the cans,” he says.

“We could bid this every year, every two years – whatever we wanted to do – or we could step back in and buy a garbage truck at any time.”

For residents of the city, the changes will make little difference to garbage services other than a different truck picking up the trash from their cans. Those who haul to the transfer station will still be able to do so as usual.

“If people have a pick-up load of trash that won’t fit in their dumpster, that will still be open, and we’ll still have our transfer truck and we will make rounds to Gillette,” Erickson says.

(Jeff Moberg photo) Dumpsters line the alley north of Main Street in Sundance. A private contractor may soon take over the city’s garbage collection, at least temporarily.
(Jeff Moberg photo) Dumpsters line the alley north of Main Street in Sundance. A private contractor may soon take over the city’s garbage collection, at least temporarily.

“Right now, we’re going once a week to Moorcroft; we might go once a month to Gillette, it just depends on how much outside trash we get in there – how many people throw away couches and all that stuff.”

Meanwhile, Erickson is also investigating options to streamline the city’s recycling program, though he does not yet have firm answers.

“I’m looking to change recycling somehow,” he says. “My [preferred] solution is to have the businesses the same way now, except the city will own the containers and we’ll hire private contractor to come in and pick them up once a week, and then we’ll do the curbside in-house.”

Whether the bids come in at an acceptable level or another option will need to be explored, the overall goal with the temporary changes to garbage is to tide the city over until a long-term solution is found while maintaining services at the lowest rates possible, Erickson concludes.

“We’re just trying to keep it the most cost-effective for everybody. I don’t want to raise the rates any more than we have to,” he says.

“It’s going to be hard to make it perfect for everyone, but we’d just as well get all our options on the table and then leap.”