County may switch to automated trash pickup
by James Phillips
May 10, 2012 | 2441 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In a move to save money and increase safety, the Walker County Commission is considering a switch to automated pickups for county garbage customers.

An automated system, similar to what the City of Jasper uses, would save the county a large amount of money in fuel costs and extra employees, commissioners said at the group’s Monday meeting.

“We’ve talked with other counties, and automated looks like the way to go,” Commission Chairman Bruce Hamrick said. “It’s my opinion that automated is the way of the future, and we should go ahead and get in because of the cost savings.”

Hamrick said actual numbers were not complete, but called the possible savings significant, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said commissioners plan on scheduling a work session in the coming weeks to discuss the issue further.

Larry Hathcoat, supervisor at the Walker County Landfill, said Wednesday the county is currently running garbage routes with four garbage trucks and four pickup trucks.

“We’d have to buy several new trucks and containers if we decide to do this, but the savings in fuel alone would make it worth doing,” he said.

If approved, county residents would receive large trash containers which would be picked up by trucks with robotic-like arms.

District 2 Commissioner Dan Wright said an automated system would also be safer, because it would eliminate the use of inmates on garbage routes and keep workers inside the vehicle at all times, which would reduce workman’s compensation claims by injured employees.

“There are a lot of positives to making this move,” Wright said. “In other areas, they’ve seen a one-third decrease in workers’ comp by switching to automated.”

Hathcoat said the move would be “the best thing for the county.”

“I’ve visited several counties in north Alabama that have the automated system, and it’s been the best thing for all of them,” he said. “It’s the safest and cleanest way to do garbage pickup. It is state-of-the-art as far as garbage goes.”

Hathcoat said an automated system would allow the county’s solid waste department to operate with fewer employees, which would be a benefit, because the department is already short-staffed.

“We’ve lost four employees in the last two months,” he said. “Right now, we are borrowing help from the district shops and using inmates just to get by.”

Wright said the county must decide soon whether it is going to hire more employees or make the switch to an automated pickup.

“Our numbers are off, and we are at a critical number of employees right now,” Wright said. “We’ve got to make a decision soon.”