Hard Candy: Math and Trash

I have grown disturbingly fond of our town’s vice mayor, Christine Brown. We both volunteer with the Gulfport Historical Society, and even though she’s apparently a Republican and I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, we’ve managed to look past labels and somehow work together. As it turns out, our political allegiances have shockingly little to do with our love for Gulfport.

One of the things I like about her is her penchant for numbers. I like numbers well enough – I mean, who hasn’t wanted three wishes or one more chance? – but I don’t really get them. Christine, though, she’s some sort of math savant, and as we’ve started working together on history-type projects, she’s inspired me to do some math of my own. It has to do with Gulfport’s special collections and the fees associated with it.

This Saturday, the city of Gulfport will allow Gulfport Neighbors to hold its quarterly “Junk in the Trunk” at the Neighborhood Center. The city will haul any junk you bring to the 49th Street Neighborhood Center (aside from chemicals or electronics) to the county’s waste-to-energy facility for free. This is significant because every other day, the city charges $17 per swipe of the garbage truck’s big ol’ claw to grab it off our curbsides.

Gulfport Neighbors has a simple goal – “to inspire, motivate and unite our neighbors in order to improve the quality of life in Gulfport” – but for me, this large-item pickup is a complex issue. I grew up in Clearwater, where every Friday a truck came down the street and hauled away things that wouldn’t fit in our trashcan. The city provided this as part of our trash services. When I moved to Gulfport, I thought it would be the same and was shocked to learn of the $17 claw swipe fee.

While surprising, it makes sense. After all, it costs money to run our sanitation department. (The workers apparently like to get paid and things like that, and the county charges the city for the trash we bring them.) However, has anyone else noticed some houses seem to accumulate trash? I wonder if the fear of a high trash bill keeps the broken screen doors, discarded wood, and random cans and tires in the yard instead of at the curb.

Inspired by the vice mayor’s numbers fixation, I tried my hand at some math of my own. I asked the city for two numbers: the amount billed in special collections for the fiscal year that ended this week, and the number of utilities customers. Public Works Director Don Sopak told me his department charged  $76,069.72 in special pickups this past fiscal year and that the department has 5,243 customers.

I pulled out my trusty calculator and did some quick ciphering. If we divided the amount we billed by the number of trash accounts, it comes to $14.51 per account, per year. Of course, if the city offered bulk pickup as part of its services – if it just happened, say, every Monday – certainly more people would set out unwanted items, so we’d have to pay the county more for disposal. $14 per house per year wouldn’t cover it, so what if we just bumped up everyone’s bill a touch, say, five dollars? What does that mean for the city? Well, $60 times 5,243 equals $314,580. Take away what we already charge (the $76,000) and that’s an increase in revenue of $238,510.28.

I’ll need the vice mayor to check my math, but this appears a three-way win: Don’s department gets extra money to put towards fixing the storm sewers, roads, alleys, and repaying the sanitary sewer repair loan; residents and businesses don’t have to save up to have enough money to get rid of their garbage; and Gulfport Neighbors can spend more time on neighborhood beautification and helping neighbors instead of hosting bulk collection days.

This is one way the city can make all of our lives easier without costing any one of us too much money. The bonus? The city will look better with our yards cleared out, and Gulfport Neighbors can focus on larger projects.

Until then, I’ll bring Gulfport Neighbors my own small pile this Saturday.

Hard Candy appears mostly regularly in print and online for the Gabber Newspaper, but the opinions and attitudes expressed are all Cathy’s. Contact her here.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.