This summer is a pivotal time for the city's solid waste program. With the current service contract set to expire in April 2018, a decision on a new contract is needed.

Due to the extensive nature of this particular municipal service, the city and the selected contractor will need a minimum lead time of six months to prepare for what will likely be a change in service delivery.

The staff has been working on this issue for many months, studying the program's history in depth, researching the practices of other communities and seeking input from industry experts. While in the research phase, we reached out to residents several times for input, including a fall 2015 focus group; a spring 2016 online survey, with roughly 1,900 responses; an online discussion via Open Town Hall, with over 300 participants; and a letter enclosed with the February stormwater and solid waste utility bill

From the feedback obtained, many residents favor a move to standardized containers for trash and recycling. There is a preference for a fee structure based on usage, but less clarity on what its composition should be -- with some residents in favor of different sized containers and pricing, and others preferring stickers.

The city is participating in a consortium bidding process through the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO), with the results expected in late June. Conversations with solid-waste providers and research of current market conditions indicate that the city's existing contract has kept costs artificially low and some level of price increase is inevitable.

As part of the city's request for bids, four primary options have been outlined, all including the provision of a standard recycling container:

* Same approach as today -- with an annual fee, stickers used for trash, yard waste and bulk items, and recycling collected at no extra charge.

Feedback from area providers indicates these bids will be very high (if bids are provided), because this approach is labor-intensive.

* Variable size dcontainers/variable cost -- with pricing based on the size of the solid waste container, which would be provided by the city at no additional cost. Under this approach, yard waste and bulk items, along with recycling, would be collected at no additional charge. Solid waste collection would be limited to the provided containers, with possible exceptions such as holidays.

* Flat fee, same size containers -- containers would be provided by the city, with a flat fee for all households. Yard waste, bulk items and recycling would be collected at no additional charge. Extra trash could be put out in different containers at any time for no charge.

* Flat fee, no container -- residents would provide their own solid waste container and all households would pay a flat fee. Yard waste, bulk items and recycling would all be collected at no additional charge.

We are mindful of our residents who are elderly or have special medical needs, and we are seeking a provider that can accommodate at-the-door collection for those who qualify. We also intend to maintain some form of premium service for homes with exceptionally long drives or that are situated on busy roads where at-the-curb collection would be difficult. And we will be considering the possibility of a senior discount.

The city staff hopes to provide council with a brief update on the bid results at the June 26 council meeting. The issue is scheduled to be back before council on Monday, Aug. 21 for a reading and public hearing; and on Monday, Aug. 28, for another reading and public hearing plus council action.

In July and into early August, the city will be reaching back out to the community extensively to share the results of the bid process and the emerging recommendation. This will include a public meeting and a telephone town hall. Please watch for more details on this issue in the coming weeks. For additional details, visit uaoh.net/trash2018.

Theodore J. Staton is UpperArlington's city manager. His office provides this column to ThisWeek Upper Arlington News.