TRAVERSE CITY -- Renee Kaufman came up with a simple idea to save her neighbors money on trash collection. It worked wonders, and cut their bills in half.
Kaufman used the purchasing power of 259 homes in her Holiday Hills Neighborhood Association to seek bids from three area trash haulers. The low bid came from American Waste of Kalkaska: $11 a month for pickup of residents' trash and recyclables.
"Instead of having trucks on our streets four days a week, we're getting down to one, and we'll only have trash sitting by the roadside one day a week," Kaufman said. "It's great and it's saving us money."
Two months into the agreement, about 70 percent of the neighborhood of five subdivisions now uses American Waste, with more switching over every month as contracts with their previous haulers expire, Kaufman said.
"If you give me 300 customers I'll give you $11 a month, too," said Ed Tobey, of American Waste. "It's just a matter of economics. If we are going to service a whole subdivision like that, ($11) is something we can do."
Holiday Hills' deteriorating streets play host to far less truck traffic these days, as well.
"It's worked out very nicely for the community as a whole, and I'm very happy with it," said neighbor Donna Cameron.
Kaufman came upon the notion of leveraging her subdivision's buying power about four years ago, when she sought bids for a required annual certification for irrigation systems. Residents' current contract is $35 per household, a task done during a one-week blitz in the spring.
One of Kaufman's neighbors missed out on the deal and paid $125 for the same service.
"For one person to get charged $125 for something we can get done for $35 just doesn't seem right, and it just makes sense for me to try and do this if you can save everyone some money," she said.
Kaufman is a mother of three and works part time at Munson Urgent Care. Tough economic times prompted her in February to expand her money-saving activities, and she created a Web site for her loosely formed neighborhood association and found businesses, including several owned by neighbors, to give "neighbor discounts."
Kaufman's Web site lists about two dozen neighbor discounts ranging from resume-building to lunch. The June special is for air conditioner maintenance.
"I probably get about 15 to 20 e-mails a month now with people saying, 'Hey, here's another idea,'" Kaufman said.
One such suggestion mentioned trash service.
Kaufman polled neighbors and discovered three companies, Waste Management Inc., American Waste and Allied Waste Services each provided collection to about a third of them. Annual bills varied from $176 to almost $300.
"Everyone's rates were different, you could pay one rate and two houses down your neighbor paid a different rate, even though you used the same (company)," Kaufman said.
She sought bids from all three companies. Waste Management bid $15 a month plus a one-time $29 fee. Allied bid $14.65 plus unspecified fuel and environmental fees.
The process "took a ton of time," Kaufman said, to draft the bid and answer questions from the bidders who wanted to make sure she wasn't just acting on her own.
She notified residents by hand-delivering flyers twice, posting bid information on the Web site, and sending out e-mails. After the low bid was awarded, she still wasn't done. Neighbors had questions, and after some began to switch to American Waste, Allied offered to match that price.
"I had to explain it's not just a cost issue, it's a safety issue," Kaufman said. "We don't have sidewalks in our subdivisions, and we don't want these trucks on our streets every day where our kids ride their bikes."
Word of Kaufman's success spread and others are looking to duplicate it, but Kaufman said the neighborhood makes it work, not her.
"For any of this to move forward you have to have responsive neighbors," Kaufman said. "This is a wonderful neighborhood because everybody is supportive and works together."