Traverse City commissioners should move ahead with the best deal for a citywide trash contract without waiting for surrounding townships to sort out what they want to do.
This isn't to discount the importance of streamlining trash pickup across the county by getting everyone to adopt single-hauler contracts; that's a worthy goal that will save homeowners money and reduce the considerable wear and tear of multiple garbage trucks rumbling down city and county roads.
But there appears to be much sorting out to do on the townships' end, and certainly no guarantees any deal they strike would be compatible with a contract that would best meet the city's needs.
There also appears to be a reluctance on the part of at least two local haulers to lumping the city and surrounding townships into a single deal. That may seem counter-intuitive, based on the assumption that the greater number of customers the lower the rate, but that advantage falls off in more rural townships.
Allied Waste of Manistee and Waste Management both offered city residents substantial discounts if surrounding townships weren't included in the deal. Allied bid $9.75 a month for weekly trash and recycling pick-up, as well as a monthly collection of one bulky item. The cost would jump to $11.22 a month if the three townships are included.
Even at the high end — the $10.37 a month bid by American Waste — the savings to city homeowners would be worthwhile. The average homeowner now pays $18 a month, according to city manager Ben Bifoss, so even the highest bid would represent a savings of $7.63 a month or just more than $91 a year; citywide, the savings could near $1 million.
No one has put a number on how much the city or the county could save in road repairs by having fewer trucks on the road, but residents who see — and hear — garbage trucks rumbling down their street three or four days a week will no doubt notice the difference. That's a quality of life measurement that's hard to quantify.
Bifoss has already indicated the city will be ready to act on its own.
That's good for city residents and could help clear the way for East Bay, Old Mission and Acme townships to come to their own arrangements that best meet their needs. (Garfield Township offers a "preferred provider" system similar that gives a discount to those who sign up.)
When those details are worked out everyone involved should sit down and decide if they can make it better and even more efficient.
However, the city should also conduct a one-year review of rates, performance and savings under the new contract to ensure things are as they should be — that rates are steady, performance is good and saving are as expected.
Trust, but verify.
For now, this is a big step ahead the city can't pass up.