Garbage and Green Space
in this week's news
By Alex De Grand

Take those old records off the shelf City officials sat down with representatives of the sanitation workers August 2 to review some of the numbers behind their demands for better pay and working conditions.

The city's bottom line didn't offer a lot for sanitation workers to cheer.

Wally Skiba of the Division of Human Resources reported a survey of about a dozen Kentucky cities shows only Louisville and Owensboro pay more for refuse collectors and just Owensboro pays more for truck drivers.

Mary Helen Casey of the Division of Budgeting reported the current starting salary for a refuse collector is $7.96 an hour (roughly $16,500 a year), a rate that will jump to $8.28 an hour (roughly $17,000 annually) as of Jan. 1, 2001. Truck drivers start at $9.56 an hour today and will start at $9.95 an hour as of the new year.

Casey added many of the city's drivers and refuse collectors aren't at a starting salary - their average annual salary is about $25,000.

The city pays for solid waste operations from a special fund created solely for that purpose. The fund is generated from a 17.5 cents-per-$100 assessed value property tax. Casey explained the city is projecting a fund balance of about $3.4 million for this fiscal year.

However, Casey cautioned, dipping into that amount to hand out raises could be extremely tricky because the city has other projects in mind like leaf collection that will also draw off that account.

And any raise would represent big money, Casey said. A raise of 1 percent would amount to about $65,000 and a raise of 5 percent would add up to about $324,000, she said.

Complicating matters, city attorney Terry Holmes explained, is that the city's merit system rules would prohibit a raise to just one isolated group of employees. Other employees of equal rank in other departments would also be in line for raises, making the proposition dramatically more expensive.

Skiba reported the city has no problem filling sanitation worker jobs and there is very low turnover. He said there are 20 people or more available for every one position.

After the meeting, representatives of the sanitation workers and their supporters expressed discouragement with the city's numbers, but they pledged to keep pressing their point that the pay is not in proportion to the risk of injury.

"Yes, plenty of people will work for (those wages), but is it fair to take advantage of people who need a job?" asked David Sams, a sanitation worker and contributing member to the city's subcommittee charged with examining these issues.

Sams was pleased to note Skiba reported sanitation workers rank ahead of fire fighters and police in numbers of reported injuries (although those two professions are ahead of sanitation workers in numbers of deaths).

The city's subcommittee will meet again 5 p.m. August 30.

Euclid was just the beginning

The bicycle lanes recently added to Euclid Avenue could become part of a great network of paths for bicyclists and pedestrians linking Lexington's neighborhoods together, according to city planners.

Over the next 15 or 20 years, the city hopes to develop paths as roads are improved as with Virginia Avenue or created as with Polo Club Boulevard. The city is also looking at creating bike paths at sites such as Squires Road, previously an abandoned road.

Doug Greene, a city greenspace planner, said increasing the number of paths will encourage people to get around with something other than a polluting motorized vehicle, boosting the city's efforts at combating ozone and other air pollution problems.

The paths will also tie neighborhoods together, promoting a greater sense of community, he said.

These paths have been treated solely as a transportation matter in the past, Greene said. This time, however, paths will be considered with "greenway" issues, he said.

Greenways are corridors of protected open space managed for conservation and recreation purposes. They often follow natural land or water features like flood plains or streams.

Greene said directing paths through scenic areas will enhance their appeal and use.

Eventually, Greene said, the city would like to explore the prospects of linking up beyond Lexington with a "rails-to-trails" program, using the abandoned Lexington-Big Sandy railroad line that runs out toward Ashland.

A rails-to-trails program converts a defunct stretch of railroad into a usable path.

Federal and state funds are available to the city for creating these paths, Greene said.

The kickoff to developing a plan for all these paths will be 3 p.m. September 20 at the City Council Chambers before the greenspace commission. A series of public workshops slated for October, December and January will be held to answer questions and build support from the public.

Greene said some people have been apprehensive about whether bike paths linking neighborhoods will attract a bad element to their area. Greene referred to a 1998 study by the Rail to Trails Conservancy that found the paths pose minimal impact on crime rates.