Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Milwaukee committee hears alumni workshop report on waste collection, fees

A Milwaukee Common Council committee grilled three 2009 La Follette School graduates on a public affairs workshop report at a public hearing in July — and then tabled their research without taking a vote.

The three, Gail Krumenauer, Kevin Luecke and Seth Nowak, presented for about 30 minutes on July 15 to the Public Works Committee in Milwaukee's City Hall on recommendations to improve the city's solid waste collection system.

"I am grateful for the insight we gained at the Common Council committee meeting, experiencing the collision of academic research with the challenges of the policymaking process," Krumenauer says. "I hope the energy and momentum we found in the Milwaukee agencies that served as our clients will carry through to tangible results and improve a public service for the City's residents."

Mayor Tom Barrett had suggested that the students share their findings with the Common Council after they presented the report to him in May as the culmination of their public affairs workshop taught by professor Susan Yackee.
In the report, City of Milwaukee: Impacts of Pay-As-You-Throw Municipal Solid Waste Collection, the three and co-author Catherine Hall recommended that Milwaukee adopt a weight-based fee system for the collection of municipal solid waste.

Other municipalities that have linked fees to the amount of waste collected have reported reductions in waste and increases in recycling. The students found that a weight-based fee is more cost-effective than Milwaukee's current annual $150 flat fee, which does not produce enough revenue for the city to cover the costs of solid waste collection. A weight-based fee structure is also more equitable because users pay according to the amount of services they use.


The La Follette School's May graduates are finding they are well-prepared and competitive in today' s tighter job market.

Gail Krumenauer is an economist/workforce analyst at the Oregon Employment Department.

Catherine Hall is a resource developer with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. She enrolls, trains and monitors independently contracted individuals who provide personal assistance services for Medicaid recipients.

Kevin Luecke is lead planner for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. He consults with communities on creating bicycle master plans as well as other facility issues.

Seth Nowak is a research assistant at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. He assists with state-level utility sector research on energy efficiency policies, spending, and energy savings.

The members of the Public Works Committee showed spirited interest in the report, frequently interjecting with questions. Committee chair alder Robert Bauman asked how other cities had handled similar changes. Alder Willie Wade worried about the effect of changes on renters. And vice chair alder Joseph Dudzik focused on the costs of the new program.

The students referred to their research to answer most questions, noting occasionally their research was limited by time and access to information.
The alders seemed particularly interested in a pilot project and potential cost savings, but they decided to "place on file" the recommendation for the foreseeable future.

Bauman thanked the students before they left. "This is very useful work and a good effort," said Bauman, also thanking the La Follette School for its involvement.

Terry Shelton, outreach director at the La Follette School, told the students, "You never know who else might read this and see this and be motivated to push ahead." The presentation was broadcast live on Milwaukee City Channel 25 and was to be broadcast again. "Other residents and elected officials might think this is worth pursuing," Shelton says.

One person watching from his office in City Hall, Mark Nicolini, budget director for the city of Milwaukee and a 1983 La Follette alum, hurried to the hearing room afterward with city economist Eric Shambarger, a 2002 alum who advised the students, to congratulate them. "You guys did so well I thought they might want you to take my place," Nicolini joked.