An experiment that began more than a decade ago is expected to come to fruition later this year with the delivery of four new trucks that will accommodate the automation of the city's solid waste collection system. 

A detailed study undertaken in 2017 found the city could trim its Solid Waste Division staff of 20 by nine employees by automating trash collection services. Staff and route reductions resulting from automated collections is expected to produce annual savings ranging from $250,000 to $300,000. 

Public Works Director Greg Riley said the department's solid waste division typically is the most difficult to staff due to extreme weather in the winter and the summer and work conditions. The division historically has had a high number of workplace injuries and absenteeism, requiring workers be pulled from other other assignments to fill in temporarily.  

The purchase of four new trucks — with a price tag of $285,246 each the total cost will be more than $1.14 million — is expected to accommodate the move to a fully automated collection system and resolve most of those labor issues. 

The city experimented with the idea about 12 years ago, buying one truck that was placed into service and used until its usefulness expired. Workers found the truck purchased then was too large for the city's needs, so the decision to move forward with full automation stalled.

Riley said at the time the “in-depth, detailed study” would examine every aspect of the city's existing system before consultants determine what might work best for Muskogee. Final recommendations were based upon the analysis of data and information gleaned during ride-alongs with city trash crews.

Now that the trucks believed to meet the city's needs have been selected — city councilors are expected to approve on Monday funding and a vendor selected from the state contract — Riley said the primary task will be to educate customers about cart placement. Incorrect placement of the carts will require the manual placement of the cart in the arms by the driver, who must exit the truck.

"There will be extensive education between now and when the trucks are delivered," Riley said, emphasizing the importance of correct placement and positioning of the cart to an automated collection system. "We will be educating our citizens during the next seven months."

Funding for the purchase of the trash trucks will come from the city's solid waste improvements fund. That fund reportedly has deposits totaling $1.01 million today, but it is expected to have deposits totaling more than the $1.14 million needed when the four trucks are delivered seven months from now. 

A representative from J&R Equipment in Oklahoma City said "unlimited driver training and technician training is included in the price" of the truck. 

Riley said he believes the trucks being purchased, as they are outfitted, are the best available for the city's needs. 

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