ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — With pay for truck drivers falling behind going rates and creating staffing shortages, Elizabethton residents and businesses will see higher trash pickup fees if a proposal before the Elizabethton City Commission passes Thursday.

The increases would move residential charges from their current $13 a month to $15 and commercial charges from $25 to $30 a month, increases of 15% and 20% respectively.

The city commission will also consider purchasing a $425,000 side loader garbage truck, a cost that would come in the 2024 fiscal year that begins July 1, 2023. A proposed resolution notes that it would create a “one-man operation as opposed to the city’s current three-man operation.”

City Manager Daniel Estes told News Channel 11 in an email the challenges have been building and impact more than just the 10-person sanitation department.

“We routinely pull staff from the Street side of the department to cover vacancies in Sanitation, as well as having supervisors fill in as drivers,” Estes said. “This shortfall also delays work in the Street department.” 

The city’s finance director wrote in a memo to commissioners that finding and keeping truck drivers with Commercial Driver License (CDL) certification, which are required to drive sanitation trucks, has become more and more difficult as the offered pay is “falling behind the labor market.”

Estes said that’s despite entry-level pay for CDL positions in the sanitation and street departments has already increased 30%, to $17.24 an hour.

The new truck is expected to arrive in early 2024. A staff memo says it would be safer, as no one has to ride on the back of a truck, and also save the city approximately $74,000 annually.

Estes said the city’s separate sanitation “enterprise fund” — the operation is supposed to be self-sustaining and not “poach” from city general funds — pays for equipment out of savings. He said the fee increase will allow the fund to continue saving enough to pay for the new equipment and what have been increasing fuel costs.

Unaudited figures from fiscal 2022 show the fund had just under $1.8 million in revenue. After regular expenses capital expenses and depreciation, the fund’s cash position was expected to drop by about $46,000.

The overall changes would eventually eliminate the need for four “utility worker” positions — the people who currently ride on the back of the city’s two rear-loading trucks and maneuver the full garbage cans for dumping into the truck. Estes said those positions would be eliminated through attrition rather than layoffs.

The proposed changes would put Elizabethton’s trash pickup rates at similar levels to nearby cities. Estes said residential rates are $15 in Johnson City, $14.50 in Bristol and $15.50 in Jonesborough. Commercial rates are $35 in Johnson City and $22.50 in Jonesborough.