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City seeks to address shortage of totes

Old totes never die, they just fall apart.

Or end up being stolen.

The city is grappling with a shortage of garbage receptacles that has left some frustrated property owners toteless for almost two months.

The problem has become severe enough to merit the scrutiny of Buffalo's accountability panel.

Mayor Byron W. Brown and other CitiStat panelists were told last week that 900 new totes are due to arrive any day. The bad news: These totes probably won't meet demand beyond July 1.

Meanwhile, some residents are becoming increasingly upset.

"It's horrible to have to wait eight weeks," said Christine McGinniss, who owns a double-family home in the Riverside neighborhood. "What are you supposed to do in the meantime?"

McGinniss said her totes were stolen in early March, and she has been waiting for replacements ever since. As if the delay weren't irksome enough, McGinniss said her property was recently cited for improperly putting out garbage in bags.

"The city can't have it both ways," she said.

Property owners who are waiting for new totes shouldn't be fined, said acting Public Works Commissioner Daniel E. Kreuz. The city's policy is that people who are facing delays in obtaining the proper receptacles can put out their garbage in plastic bags. Any individual who has requested a tote but receives a fine during the wait for a receptacle should call 851-4890.

Kreuz said he understands residents' frustration, adding that the city is trying to address the problem. In the past year, Buffalo spent about $380,000 for tote replacements. But now that the citywide tipper-tote refuse program is moving into its seventh year, a growing number of receptacles are starting to break. The more totes that break, the greater the theft problem.

Replacing all 120,000 totes throughout the city would cost $5.5 million -- or $46 per receptacle.

"The money is just not there to do that," Kreuz said.

Tote shortages have been a perennial problem for years, according to some Common Council staff members who handle constituent complaints. City officials don't deny that they can't keep up with calls for replacements.

"We've been continuing to order totes when we have the money to do so," said Charles Masi, the administrator in the city's Public Works Department.

Changes that are being made to garbage trucks should reduce the number of totes that end up breaking when they're being emptied. The alterations couldn't come at a better time, officials said, noting that garbage volume -- and weight -- increases during the summer months.

City Hall has also faced problems keeping enough blue recycling bins to meet demand. Corporation Counsel Alisa A. Lukasiewicz was recently surprised to learn that the shortage had become so severe that city crews had taken recycling bins from city offices to fulfill some outstanding orders.

The tote and recycling bin shortage will likely be a topic of discussion as city officials put together a new budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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