Just two years after buying a pair of high-tech trucks for rubbish collection, South Portland officials want to scrap local trash pickup and let Pine Tree Waste take over the service for $4.3 million.

The South Portland City Council is expected to decide Wednesday whether to enter into a five-year contract with Pine Tree Waste to handle trash collection and recycling starting in June 2008, said Acting City Manager Jim Gailey.

The move would cost the city an additional $133,000 a year and eliminate two public works positions.

The move to privatize local trash collection comes after the city experienced numerous problems with its new automated trucks, which are operated by a driver using a joystick and camera to move a metal claw and empty the trash cans.

South Portland was among the first communities in Maine to buy the high-tech trucks, considered labor-saving devices.

But in April, one of the $185,000 trucks was destroyed when it rolled over off Highland Avenue. If the city contracts with Pine Tree Waste, it would likely sell the second truck, which has required frequent repairs and servicing.

The city still needs to replace the truck demolished in the rollover, and the public works staff does not want to drive the other vehicle, according to Public Works Director Dana Anderson.

After the truck rollover, the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees stated that the city needed better training for driving the trash trucks, an assertion the city refuted.

Gailey said this week that the city has trouble finding drivers to operate the trucks because no one wants the menial job of garbage pickup.

“There’s a lot of repetition going from house to house,” Gailey said. “You do the same thing over again.”

The proposal to privatize trash collection is based on economics, Gailey said.

“It used to be cheaper for the city to handle its own trash collection,” Gailey said. “But Pine Tree has built its capacity. They have extra trucks if one goes out of service. They have more mechanics. This is something they specialize in.”

Councilor Linda Boudreau said the council will weigh “the cost of doing it ourselves versus the private sector” handling rubbish collection before reaching a decision.

Pine Tree Waste currently handles recycling for the city, but its contract has expired.

The proposed five-year, $4.3 million contract would result in a net increase of $133,000 each year in the city budget for the next five years. That increase would go into effect next fiscal year, when the new program got under way, Gailey said.

The costs to privatize are offset by nearly $295,000 in savings from stopping locally run service, according to Anderson.

In a memo given to the council, Anderson explained that the solid waste disposal account would increase by $427,909 under the new contract. But there would be $294,288 in savings from dropping locally run service.

He also said that Pine Tree Waste would pick up trash on snow days and the city would not need an additional mechanic to handle frequent servicing problems it has now with the automated truck.

Pine Tree uses automated trucks, so residents would still use the large barrels on wheels they received when the city bought the automated trucks. But households would get a second 65-gallon barrel on wheels for recyclables as well. The city is hoping residents will recycle more with the larger barrels and reduce waste disposal costs.

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