The Village of Oak Park is looking to decrease the number of different garbage haulers traveling through its alleys each day. The hope is to minimize their environmental impact, as well, along with saving taxpayers a few bucks.

Currently, owners of commercial and multifamily buildings (at least six units) can pick whichever company they want to empty their dumpsters. Twelve different haulers are licensed in Oak Park.

This is the opposite of the village’s practice of using one company to pick up garbage for single-family homes and buildings with five or less units.

In the hope of saving money as well as reducing damage the trucks might cause to the environment and to local alleys, the village wants to have one hauler serve all commercial buildings in Oak Park.

So the village sent out a request earlier this year and got seven responses back. Each was ranked on several categories, the most important being cost.

At the direction of the village board, Oak Park now plans to sit down with the top two ranked companies to work towards picking a hauler to do the village’s entire commercial pick up. Solid Waste Coordinator Karen Rozmus said she hopes to bring a contract before the board for approval in September. But the board will hold another meeting in the coming months to further discuss the idea.

The village plans to include an “opt-out” clause in the new contract, so property owners who want to pick their own hauler can still do so. The option was a key request from the local business community. Consolidation has been a heated topic, since the village started pursuing it in 2000.

“If you don’t have an opt-out clause, I think some people are going to be very concerned that their business is going to be impacted,” said Dan Finnegan, president of the North Avenue Business Association.

“My only problem with that is you cut out the competition, and so then the company who’s chosen can charge whatever they want,” said Paul Zimmermann, president of the Roosevelt Road Business Association and owner of two buildings on the street.

However, he’s in favor of increasing recycling in Oak Park. Currently trash and recyclables go in the same dumpster, he said.

Only 19 percent of waste in multifamily buildings is recycled, 8 percent in commercial, Rozmus said. That’s compared to 33 percent on the residential side.

“In the long run, it could hurt us all because it takes away competition and might put some people out of business,” said Bill Planek, president of Green Plan Management, which oversees 1,300 units in Oak Park. “We like to use our own contractors, and can hire and fire them, instead of being locked in with the village.”

Green Plan currently uses four different haulers for the roughly 50 condo, office, and multifamily buildings it operates.

Hauling companies are also upset with the idea. One man sat through Monday’s entire village board meeting, fidgeting and grumbling. “This is unbelievable,” he said when the board moved towards consolidating to one hauler.

He declined to comment to Wednesday Journal, but after the meeting, Rozmus said he was with one of the waste companies. Legislation is in the works that would require communities to give a 15-month notice before attempting to consolidate trash pickup.

The village estimates building owners could save anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent with the change, on average. Some alleys see dozens of trucks a week, which Oak Park wants to reduce.

Oak Park may also increase its revenues by adding a $100,000 “franchising fee” for the chosen waste hauler. That could partly go towards hiring a new staff person to oversee the program, Rozmus said.

Other communities, such as Skokie, have pursued a similar practice. Village Manager Tom Barwin estimated between 25 percent and 30 percent of users opted out of the city contract.

“Folks go into business lots of time because they’re independent entrepreneurs who prefer unfettered freedom in everything they do, including who’s going to pick up their garbage, and that’s all understandable,” Barwin said. “But it’s one of these classic issues. At what point does individual independence cross over to the greater good?”

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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