Newport weighs trash collection options

NEWPORT BEACH — Clean beaches, modern libraries, well-kept parks … and great trash collection?

One of Newport Beach's surprisingly popular public services may be soon outsourced to save money, and officials are tip-toeing as they study their options.

The city issued a request for proposals Wednesday — not for actual trash haulers, but for a consultant to analyze residential trash services. As costs for public employee pensions continue to mount, and the city identifies capital needs such as harbor dredging, the City Council has asked management to look at outsourcing many in-house functions.

"We need to make sure each one of our services is being done efficiently," City Manager Dave Kiff said Tuesday.

Newport is one of the few Southern California cities that still collects its trash manually, according to the RFP. Trash collectors step off their truck each week and heave an unlimited amount of refuse from each resident's own containers.

The city employs 24 refuse workers, and owns and operates 18 trash trucks.

Many cities have switched to automated collection by an outside company. In those places, a truck's mechanical arm picks up uniform bins — often one for waste and one for recyclables. The amount and shape of trash is generally limited to those bins.

The customized approach in Newport has earned residents' praise. In August 2010, a survey of about 700 households found that 92% of residents were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their trash pickup.

"Our trash guys are very beloved and that's obviously a sensitive issue for us," Kiff said.

Earlier this year, residents came to a council meeting to protest trash outsourcing. When pressed by a council member, one admitted that trash men encouraged them to attend.

Newport has recently outsourced its street sweeping, beach trash pickup, parking meter enforcement and other services. There are no "sacred cows," Mayor Mike Henn said in June, when listing some potential services to be privatized.

He said the city should also consider jail administration; training for police officers, firefighters and lifeguards; the city print shop; and some financial operations. Already, a company is studying the city's publicly run oil wells.

Kiff said discussions were underway between Costa Mesa, Newport and Huntington Beach officials to collaborate on jailing and emergency dispatch systems.

Once the trash consultant studies the city's options, including keeping collection in-house, the council may direct the department to issue an RFP for actual haulers.

Twitter: @mreicher

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