“I don’t think it could get any easier” –Richard Raines on solid waste @ LCC 2012-10-09 @ LCC 2012-10-09

Tuesday the Lowndes County Commission voted to abolish the current rural waste collection centers and to contract with Veolia for waste pickup like in urban areas. This decision on an essentially rural matter was made by three urban Commissioners without any public hearing on their current RFP.

Before deciding, County Manager Joe Pritchard gave the history of the county's waste management railroad. A curiously redacted history.

As y'all know, in FY 04 and 05, operating costs of the solid waste program was approximately $1.1 million increasing at a rate of approximately 10% a year. As a result the at-that-time recently passed service delivery […] act of General Assembly, the county and the cities of Lowndes County were forced to come to an agreement on the delivery of the vasrious services. As a result of that, solid waste came to be funded strictly on a user fee basis.

I'm guessing he's referring to HB 489, the Local government service delivery strategy agreement of 1997. As we learned from Richard Raines Monday, it's not clear HB 489 precluded a special tax district for waste disposal similar to the special tax lighting districts the county often sets up for streetlights in subdivisions. I've seen no indication the county ever seriously looked into that.

In April and May of 2008 the county advertised and conducted a series of eight public meetings in which we were asked by Commission to gather input from the public regarding the various options that were available. During those meetings it was obvious that there was not one clear option that was chosen by the public.

Obvious to whom? For that matter, why should there be only one option?

In 2009 the Commission requested a non-exclusive curbside proposal. At that time Veolia was the only […] to submit bids, and that bid was $19.78 a month increasing to $22.01 over a five-year period.

That decision was voted on in former chairman Rod Casey's last year on the Commission. Before that, Rod Casey told me that between the Commission and the staff they knew all there was to know about waste management and there was no need for any input from anyone else. Hm, maybe they didn't know everything, considering their decision didn't work. That same Commission rejected Veolia’s bid 25 November 2008, passing the waste disposal buck to the next Commission.

After much consideration, the Commission instructed us to […] a permit card and we did so in 2009.

The incoming Commission with Ashley Paulk as the new chairman had to pick up the pieces from the previous Commission's failed decision. The current cards are that repair plan.

That card was on sale for $100 annually. During that time we have changed the number of operating hours and personnel to try to maintain operating level and revenue. Unfortunately operating costs run annually slightly over $400,000. The revenue projections are a little bit complicated.

That's it? Just "a little bit complicated"? No dollar figures?

Just under 5,000 residents who have purchased the cards, and approximately over 11,000 unincorporated residents who currently contract with private callers. For the current service to continue, center hours would decrease, some centers would be closed, and the cost of the card would increase.

Or just increase the price of the card enough to cover the costs. What are the costs? How much would that increase be? We have no idea.

The final point I'd like to make is that during the period at the beginning of June we offered the cards for sale for a six month period. During that time the purchasers were provided with an information sheet explaining the history of the program, the current operation challenges, and information explaining that the Commission would be seeking requests for proposals in order to determine a possible new path of service beginning in 2013. Also an email address was provided and citizens were encouraged to send that information to county commissioners.

We didn't get any such information sheet when we bought a new card. I wonder who else didn't get it, and how many did.

Did you catch the part about new public hearings related to the new RFP? I didn't either, because there were none. Pritchard is citing four year old hearings under Commissioners none of whom are still serving, as public hearings related to the RFP the current Commission just voted on. Does that seem right to you?

In his presentation, Kevin Beals once again, like the previous day, referred to the good response from the "waste disposal community". He said nothing about responses from the community waste disposal is supposed to serve. This wasn't surprising after Pritchard's monologue.

Commissioner Richard Raines opined that "it's been out there in the public" so people had had plenty of time to respond. Later he said three people had contacted him about the waste management RFP. Apparently this was since the Monday Work Session meeting, which would indicate that once people did know when a decision was likely to be made, they started contacting their Commissioners.

In the meeting Raines said:

I'm one of those residents that have a card, I pay $100 a year for the card, but I also have curbside. I have a large family. And I end up paying about $30 a month for solid waste. And I'll let the other commissioners speak for themselves, but for me, option D is the best option. It would represent a significant savings. It's curbside pickup for everything. Bulky solid waste, residential solid waste, bulky items, recycling, yard waste. I don't think it could get any easier than to have someone come to the end of your driveway and pick it up.

Maybe he's right; maybe everyone in the rural unincorporated areas of the county has a straight, paved driveway no more than 150 feet long.

No other commissioner wanted to speak. Raines made a motion to accept proposal D and award it to the lowest bidder. The Commissioners agreed to that unanimously. According to the summary sheet, that means Veolia for $13.05 a month.

$100/year is $8.33 a month. So $13.05 a month is about 56% more than the current dump site card. Which leads me to wonder whether the county couldn't have simply increased the cost of the card by 56% and closed the financial gap. But there's no way to know, because, as Richard Raines told Gretchen Quarterman Monday, the costs the county has been saying in public for the current sites include only the tipping fees and not all the ancilary costs of waste disposal (dumpsters, truck maintenance, fencing repairs, etc.

According to Commissioner Powell after the meeting adjourned, no one is required to buy from Veolia. However, he said the current trash deposit sites would be closed. He didn't think there would be much problem with trash left beside the road for more than maybe 90 days. I guess we'll see.

So three urban Commissioners decided on a rural issue, after never discussing it openly in public, and without ever holding a public hearing on their current options. It's true Commissioners Raines and Powell live outside Valdosta. However, both of them live in subdivisions just like ones inside Valdosta.

These are the same Commissioners who had to have it explained to them that putting subdivisions in an area of farmland could adversely affect schoolchildren, safety, and farmland, and that sprawl is not fiscally prudent. They did decide to table that Nottinghill subdivision rezoning case, and the developers never came back. But apparently the Commissioners didn't take to heart any differences between urban and rural areas.

Here's a video playlist:

Waste Disposal, Regular Session, Lowndes County Commission (LCC),
Videos by Gretchen Quarterman and John S. Quarterman
for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE), Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, 9 October 2012.