RACINE — Now that he’s taken the helm at the Department of Public Works, Commissioner John Rooney plans on spending 2020 evaluating how the department provides services and how it could be more efficient.
During his presentation on the 2020 budget this week, Rooney said he plans to spend the year evaluating how the department collects waste, repairs roads, maintains city buildings and reviews contractors. The hope is that by 2021, he will have policies or proposals for how to make the department better at delivering services.
Recycling, bulky waste
One of the first changes that recycling customers will notice this year is that the rate is proposed to go up from $29.72 to $57.39. Rooney stated that the reason is that previously, recycling was supplemented with funds from the tax levy; this year the fee is going to cover the cost of service.
The other issue is that the recycling industry nationwide has been hit by restrictions from China about the level of contamination it’ll accept in recycling materials.
“We have a situation where we have no revenue from the sale of recyclables,” said Rooney. “The situation now is we’re actually paying to process recyclables we used to receive revenue for.”
Rooney said the city used to receive approximately $100,000 in revenue for recyclable materials. For 2020, the city has budgeted $300,000 to pay recycling companies to take the materials off the city’s hands—a drop of approximately $400,000. The city still receives approximately $320,000 from a state recycling grant, which mitigates some of the damage.
While the recycling fee is a significant jump for Racine, compared to other municipalities Racine’s rate is lower than others. For 2020, North Bay plans to charge $90, Mukwonago $79.44, Bristol $66, and Salem Lakes $63.
Another proposed change to the 2020 budget is the addition of three seasonal positions to assist with bulky waste pickup. But Rooney said that alone won’t be enough to address the issue. Rooney said the way the system works, where residents schedule for pickup, is inefficient and encourages residents to throw items away.
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If the city is to meet the goals of the zero waste initiative it agreed to earlier this year, Rooney said the whole waste collection system will need to be reevaluated.
The DPW, which Rooney said has kept good records on bulky waste pickups, is working with the city’s information systems and technology department to analyze data and develop a more efficient system.
Other 2020 initiatives
There are quite a few other things Rooney would like to revamp at the DPW.
One includes the pre-qualification process for contractors, in order to avoid another situation like what happened to Cornerstone Pavers in April, when the city designated the company as unqualified at the same time it was permitted to submit bids on projects. Rooney said he would like to make the process more clear so the city can determine if a company is pre-qualified or not in advance of any bidding.
He also said he would like to further incentives for companies to participate in the Racine Works program. In addition to requiring 20% of labor hours to be completed by Racine residents, Rooney is considering having additional benefits if that percentage is increased to 25%, such as discounting any damages at the end of the project.
The department also plans to evaluate all city facilities to develop a system for planning and allocating maintenance. Rooney also briefly mentioned evaluating the way his department handles street maintenance.
The DPW also anticipates being involved in the Downtown Racine and Monument Square redesign, although the details of the proposals are still being worked out. Rooney said Toole Design Group is working through proposals to go through the standing committees with varying levels of cost and commitment.
Rooney also said the DPW will be part of Smart City initiatives the city plans on rolling out. Other than the installation of 5G wireless technology, those details have not yet been released.
Snow on Halloween?
Racine has never had snow on Halloween before.