READING, Pa. - The Reading City Council continued discussions on moving toward a citywide single trash hauler during a special committee-of-the-whole meeting Monday night.

Earlier in June, the council introduced a proposed ordinance that would require all residential properties with four residential units or fewer to participate in municipal trash services.

The ordinance is scheduled for a vote on July 13, but the council is also planning to hold a virtual town hall meeting on the topic on July 7 at 7 p.m. 

Councilwoman Lucine Sihelnik said the town hall will not be for the purpose of more public comments, but an effective opportunity for the community to pose questions to council to help it consider the matter.

The city currently contracts with Republic Waste Services, but gives residents the option of opting out to hire their own private trash haulers.

The current contract with Republic expires the end of this year.

Kevin Lugo, solid waste and sustainability manager for Reading, said 20,869 households are on the city collection program, while 5,962 households use private haulers.

Lugo said that, based on the current contract, city residents on the municipal collection program pay $204 a year, while those who use a private hauler pay between $120 and $300 a year.

"Under the proposed system – based on our current contract - the rate would be about $200 and the senior discount would be closer to $100," Lugo said, "but I want to emphasize the numbers are based on the current prices. We have to go through the request for proposal process, which we think will save the average household close to $20 a year."

Lugo also outlined some potential changes to the proposed ordinance that would provide for a senior discount; rear-alley service where feasible; and reasonable accommodations for hardship cases.

Councilwoman Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz said she wants to know what the actual cost savings to the city will look like.

She also suggested that the city seek a one-year extension to the current contract.

"If we get a one-year extension, maybe it would be an opportunity to educate the city and get [residents to] buy in," Cepeda-Freytiz said. 

Frank Denbowski, Mayor Eddie Moran's chief of staff, said a one-year extension would drive up costs.

"We don't have a lot of negotiating power," Denbowski said. "It's a risky move to take."

Council President Jeffrey Waltman said he realizes the council is moving rapidly on the issue.

"But it's getting hard to ignore the reality of this issue," Waltman said. "If we invest $20 million in economic development and it (the city) continues to look the way it does, we will not get anywhere."

Councilwoman Donna Reed said the problem of a dirty city has not gotten any better over the past 20 years.

"I am so fed up with the way things are," she said. "I want my city clean. If council doesn't see fit to approve this, then we will have to hire an army of people to clean the city, which will mean raising taxes. I am not going to put up with this anymore."

Sihelnik agreed, saying that council has a responsibility to make a decision for the good of the city.

"Leadership can demonstrate good stewardship amongst our districts and our citizens," Sihelnik said.

Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz said everyone has to remember how trash impacts public health.

"We are playing with fire now," she said. "I know a lot of seniors feel they are being put behind the 8-ball, but we don't know how many people may be getting ill."

Goodman-Hinnershitz said Abigail's Tea Room (formerly in the 1400 block of Perkiomen Avenue) chose to move outside the city because it overlooked a property that stockpiled trash on its roof.

"It's one of the reasons she (the owner) gave me to move this marvelous business outside the city," Goodman-Hinnershitz said. "I was embarrassed because there was nothing I could do."

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