JACKSONVILLE, NC Jacksonville's garbage truck fleet recently received its first fully automated trash truck, which features a hydraulic claw that picks up trash cans curbside and dumps the trash into the truck without the aid of a sanitation worker, according to Jdnews.com.

The new truck will take to the streets after it is properly registered and sanitation workers have been trained in its operation, said Kerry Terrell, superintendent of the city's sanitation division.

Terrell said residents will be minimally affected by the change, however. "Residential customers already have their cans at the curbside. An automated truck is simply going to go down the road and pick up the can and dump it."

The city's fiscal year 2008-09 budget calls for the purchase of a second truck, which City Manager Kristoff Bauer said should be purchased soon, and the sanitation division hopes a third truck will be included in the 2009-10 budget. Each truck costs about $210,000.

The labor costs associated with the city's recycling and garbage collection are about $63,000 a month at the moment. With the implementation of the trucks, and the smaller crews, the cost will go down to about $26,000 a month, Terrell said.

On the safety front, having fully automated trucks will decrease the amount of physical labor sanitation workers have to do, such as lugging trash cans to and from the truck.

After the city changed from backyard to curbside collection in 2006, there was a drastic decrease in worker's compensations claims in the sanitation department. The city went from spending about $145,000 on claims for the department to about $17,500 in 2007-08 said Helen Thompson, occupation safety and health specialist for the city.

Both Terrell and Bauer said the changeover to fully automated trash trucks should further reduce compensation claims.

Although the city will be reducing the size of sanitation crews, Bauer said they hope to avoid layoffs. "Actually, what we've been able to do is through attrition. With the changes that we've already made, we're down positions from what we used to be," he said.

Even with the addition of the fully automated trucks, the rear loading trucks will still be part of the sanitation department's fleet. They will be used to accommodate customers with exemptions that require workers to drag the customer's trash can to the curb for them or on places the automated trucks are not easily operated, such as alleyways.