Above: Seasonal public works employees Myselo King, left, and Austin Fagan and load recycle bins for delivery to McKeesport residents in this 2017 photo. Mayor Michael Cherepko said this month many bins are still available for city households. (Submitted photo by Jennifer Vertullo, City of McKeesport.)
McKeesport City Council has extended its contract with its garbage collection service for one more year.
But Mayor Michael Cherepko says the city is again considering purchase of its own garbage trucks and bringing the service back in-house for the first time in more than 35 years.
Council this month by 7-0 vote exercised an option with Big's Sanitation of Rostraver Twp., Westmoreland County, to collect the city's trash until Dec. 31, 2019.
Rather than a rate increase, Cherepko said, Big's has lowered its prices to the 2015 level.
The mayor's office has received some complaints about trash collection over the past year, Cherepko said, but added that Joe Eori Jr., president of Big's, has been "responsive every time the complaints have come in."
The company has been working out some problems with personnel, Cherepko said.
It's not the service but the expense that has concerned city officials, he said. "When you look at the largest numbers in our budget and the areas where we can cut expenses, garbage collection is one of them," Cherepko said.
McKeesport has budgeted $1.4 million for trash collection in 2019.
"I think we can not only save money for our residents, but provide a greater service," the mayor said.
McKeesport residents who have not yet gotten a recycling bin should call the public works department at (412) 675-5020, ext. 631.
While many Mon-Yough communities contract with an outside vendor such as Big's or Waste Management for garbage collection, several nearby communities do provide their own service, including Monroeville, Munhall, Swissvale and West Mifflin.
McKeesport once had a sanitation department, but the city has been contracting out its waste collection to private companies since 1982, according to clippings from the Pittsburgh Press.
Cherepko suggested in 2017 that his administration was investigating whether the city should resume its own trash collection.
As a way to test the waters, McKeesport may start using public-works employees to collect recycling this year, Cherepko said. "We want to get our feet wet and make sure the recycling is going where it needs to go first," he said. "It's my conclusion, and I think council agrees with me, that we need to give it a shot."
The rising cost of trash collection has been a thorn in the city's side for several years. In 2009, it became a political issue, when an anonymous letter claimed that the city's then-waste hauler was billing McKeesport for trash collected in other communities.
Then-City Controller Ray Malinchak used the issue as part of his challenge to Cherepko in the 2011 election, and in 2013, a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh subpoenaed records and receipts related to the city's trash collection expenses.
Although the city does not bill residents directly for trash collection, it does assess a quarterly "municipal service fee" of $75 per household, or $60 for senior citizens, to pay for the service.
To reduce its waste collection expenses, Cherepko said, McKeesport also needs to make another push to encourage residents to recycle.
In 2017, McKeesport officials were able to purchase 4,000 new recycling bins with the help of a $216,924 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Many of those bins --- which were purchased in both 32-gallon and 95-gallon sizes --- are still available for the asking, Cherepko said.
Every item that's recycled reduces the amount of trash hauled to a landfill, he said, which, in turns, reduces the landfill deposit costs. Recyclable material includes paper, cardboard, glass bottles, aluminum and bi-metal cans, and plastic types 1 through 7, Cherepko said.
Jason Togyer is the editor of Tube City Almanac and the volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published December 19, 2018.