By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Source: Honolulu Star Advertiser
May 15, 2016
A Hawaii Supreme Court decision is forcing the city to continue trash collection for scores of apartments, condominiums and nonprofit buildings, a service city officials have been trying to put the brakes on for more than a year. Justices on Wednesday reaffirmed an earlier Circuit Court decision placing an injunction on the city’s plan to end front-loader pickup for about 180 sites.
The courts ruled, in essence, that the city’s decision to end the service was tantamount to “impermissible privatization,” in violation of constitutional merit principles and civil service laws. The injunction request was filed by United Public Workers, the union that represents Hawaii’s government refuse haulers.
Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina expressed disappointment with the high court’s decision, as did City Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi. City leaders have been pushing for a halt to front-loader trash collection for the condominiums and nonprofits, arguing that the free service benefits only a fraction of those communities. Most condominiums and nonprofits on Oahu pay for their front-loader refuse pickup.
Kahikina said she’s not sure how her department will be able to continue the service under current conditions.
The city has a fleet of seven front-loader vehicles, with each now operating beyond its seven-year, useful service period. The department is struggling to put four of them on duty each day, as required. A new truck would cost about $375,000.
“The trucks are dying and the Council keeps putting in the proviso language (in the budget) that I can’t spend any money to replace those trucks,” Kahi- kina said. Because of the Council’s consistent refusal to fund new trucks, the administration decided not to seek funding for them for fiscal 2017, which begins July 1.
The court’s decision means Kahikina and her top lieutenants will need to huddle up to figure out their next move, which may involve asking the Council for funding for one or two new trucks in the coming year. Unless new trucks are purchased, “once those trucks die, completely, I will have to contract out” for private haulers, she said. “I won’t have a choice.”
Kobayashi said she’s puzzled by the court’s ruling. She maintains that it’s unfair that some nonprofits and condominiums get the service for free from the city while most others pay private haulers. In addition, she said, the service requires city trucks and city employees to go onto private property to conduct the service, which touches off possible liability and safety issues for the city, its employees and the public.
Kobayashi’s Budget Committee approved its final drafts of the 2017 budget bills on Tuesday, but changes could be made when the full Council takes its final votes on June 1.
UPW State Director Dayton Nakanelua could not be reached for comment. Kahikina said about 10 refuse workers operate the front-loaders and, if the service is discontinued, all would retain their jobs by working as manual truck collectors.
In 2014, the administration proposed charging single-family homeowners, condominium associations and private businesses monthly trash pickup fees. The plan was quickly scrapped by Council members.