In a meeting Tuesday evening, the Little Rock Board of Directors voted to increase the city’s solid waste fees by 31 percent, from $22.02 per month to $28.90 per month for “once a week, single cart” residences. This is the first time the city has increased solid waste rates since 2004.
Directors passed the ordinance in a six to four vote. Directors Lance Hines, Doris Wright, Dean Kumpuris, Gene Fortson, Capi Peck and Vice Mayor B.J. Wyrick voted for it; Joan Adcock, Erma Hendrix, Ken Richardson and Kathy Webb voted against it.
The decision comes after directors were initially presented with the results of a study on the cost of the city’s solid waste services in August. Burns & McDonnell, a construction engineering firm based in Kansas City, Mo., was contracted by the city to perform the study. Seth Cunningham, a representative from the firm, told directors in August that in addition to increasing solid waste fees for individual residences, the firm also recommended limiting households to one free “bulk” collection per year, with additional bulk collecting services available for $25 per collection — up to two cubic yards and with $10 added for each additional cubic yard. Cunningham said about 12 percent of households in the city represent 68 percent of the bulk collections, saying the bulk collection requests were “not equally distributed among households.”
Adcock said she felt the $25 bulk collection fee — which will be added to a resident’s water bill if they request a bulk collection in addition to the one free pick up allotted per year — could put added stress on residents who already have difficulty paying their utilities.
Jon Honeywell, Public Works director, reiterated Cunningham’s earlier point, saying that out of the roughly 59,000 customers the city has, 40,000 of those customers did not use the city’s existing bulky item pick up system.
“It’s about a little over 10 percent of the customer base in the city of Little Rock [who] are putting stuff out for bulky item collection multiple times,” Honeywell said. “The people who are going to be impacted by this collection fee are very small, when you look at the overall numbers of what’s going on.”
Webb asked Honeywell for an update on the Request For Proposal — which Honeywell said the city was “currently working” on earlier in August — for curbside glass recycling to be provided for residents, after the city stopped provided glass recycling services in March. Honeywell said the RFP is in the “final stages of being advertised” and that he feels “comfortable” the city will be able to process bids in time for an additional rate for glass recycling to potentially be added to the rate increase approved today, which goes into effect on Jan. 1.
Directors Wright and Wyrick both expressed concern about how the rate increase will improve waste collection services for Little Rock residents. Honeywell said that as part of the rate increase, the Public Works department is proposing to add 15 people to its staff, plus an additional knuckleboom crane — a type of crane with a “knuckle” in its middle that allows it to fold, making it useful for loading and unloading — as well as five more rear load garbage trucks and nine more side loader garbage trucks.
The board voted to approve the rate increase without information on the potential cost of curbside glass recycling, but Honeywell said the city has time to process that RFP and present the chosen company’s contract to the board so it could potentially add such a cost to the rate increase before it takes effect at the beginning of the year.
Directors also approved an ordinance that changes the frequency of city inspections of registered rental housing units. Previously, city code dictated that all of Little Rock’s registered rental housing units be inspected every two years. Victor Turner, director of Housing and Neighborhood Programs, said the two-year inspection practice was “unfeasible” for the department; Turner told directors at last week’s meeting that there are 27,859 registered rental units in the city.
The new ordinance revises city code to institute a “systematic rental inspection program” that will inspect a random sampling of 20 percent of all registered units. Turner said this would mean all registered units would be inspected in five years, which brings Little Rock closer to “best practices” for rental inspections enforced by other cities. The new ordinance also allows inspections to be deferred for newly constructed units that are less than five years old until the sixth year “from the date on the Certificate of Occupancy.” The revisions also include the ability for the city to issue a “Notice to Comply” request to landlords each time it attempts to inspect a certain property. If a landlord does not comply with the request, Turner said the city then has the “option” to cite the landlord for an appearance and potential fee in Environmental Court.
Wright, Adcock and Wyrick all shared that they were worried about the impact these changes could have on single family rental units, which the directors said are already overlooked by the city’s current inspection system. Turner said the random sampling will help the city focus more on these types of rentals, rather than large apartment complexes.
“What the 20 percent [sampling] allows us to do is a more comprehensive rental inspection program,” Turner said. “What we have now, we can’t do. So what we propose is something that allows us to still keep tabs on the larger complexes, but we can focus on the ones that are 10 [units] or less. … We know where our problems are, but right now, we’re not really able to focus on it because we’re trying to do 27,000 [inspections] over two years, which, from the time [the original ordinance] was passed, has never been achieved. … I just think this is the best approach we can take with the amount of human resources that we have. We have 38 total code officers, and when this was passed, we had 18.”
Richardson moved for the ordinance to be deferred for two weeks — an action Webb said earlier in the meeting she would support — and directors voted six to four against deferring it. Hines, Wright, Kumpuris, Fortson, Peck and Wyrick voted against deferring the ordinance; Adcock, Hendrix, Richardson and Webb voted to defer.
Upon a request by Hines, the board voted to amend some of the language of the ordinance, added by Carpenter, clarifying that the 20 percent random sampling of inspected units “will” be done by the city instead of just being a “goal” of the city. The ordinance was then approved by the board, with all directors but Richardson voting in favor of it. Richardson voted “present.”
Directors also voted to provide an extension of one year to the city’s A Bridge To Work program, which began in April and was initially approved for a 6-month pilot period. The program is run by Canvas Community Church, and it provides people who are homeless and housing insecure with an opportunity to earn an hourly wage for city beautification efforts, such as picking up trash or helping with gardening projects. Participants are often picked up in a van from different locations around the city, and in addition to being paid for their work, participants get access to social services through the church and are provided a meal.