Waste disposal issues in Lowndes County are more complex than one might think, and transparent processes could help citizens understand these stewardship issues, while helping the local government do its job.
Commissioner Raines called me yesterday evening after I had left him a voice mail and an e-mail letting him know that I had some questions.
I was particularly curious about the proposals in column “F” which asked for:
Contractor(s) agrees to provide an independent proposal option to address residential solid waste, bulky item, yard waste and recyclable materials collection, transportation and disposal, collection center management and related customer service, records, billing and payment processing services for unincorporated Lowndes County residents.
Proposal “F” Pricing —
Residential solid waste, bulky item, yard waste and recyclable materials collection, transportation and disposal, collection center management and related customer service, records, billing and payment processing services.
$______________ per month/subscriber
This was an opportunity for the vendors to provide some option that the county had not asked for but used their expertise in waste disposal and offer a creative solution.
The prices in column “F” ranged from $8.33 to $19.95 to “Negotiate”.
Commissioner Raines briefly explained what had been submitted by each vendor and it became clear that there was not a creative winning solution proposed there. In fact, submitting a “Negotiate Rates and Program” is clearly a failure.
We then went on to discuss at length the whole solid waste disposal history, problems, options, and so on. Commissioner Raines stressed his focus on financial stewardship and getting the best deal for the citizens of the county. I said that stewardship also included safety in the disposal process and making sure that people didn’t just throw their trash on the side of the road. We also talked about recycling and how that is also a stewardship issue and how it is important to many people.
I had wondered about the possible billing options. Will the county bill, or the vendor, or will it be part of the unincorporated county tax bill, or something else? Commissioner Raines explained that Georgia State Law requires solid waste disposal to be a user fee and not a property tax. I wondered if the fee could be like a special lighting tax district except for special solid waste tax district for households in the unincorporated area and Commissioner Raines said that wasn’t yet clear.
The one thing that surprised me the most was that Commissioner Raines said he got no calls or emails about the impending trash situation. He said that clearly people knew that something would change when the county sold cards for only six months and if they had questions they should have called and asked and expressed their opinions before we got to the day of the vote.
Here’s where I think transparent government comes in. Those in the government know what’s going on, what the time frames are, why they are considering things at a certain time, and so on. Why not make that information publically available? From the outside, we don’t know what to ask, what issues are pending or particularly important or why the government does what it does.
I had previously made an open records request for items related to solid waste disposal and in the materials I received was a graph that showed fees related to cost. It seemed that the gap was closing and if the fee for the pass was raised slightly then the gap would close and all would be well. It turns out the cost in that graph was only the tipping fees and not all the ancilary costs of waste disposal (dumpsters, truck maintenance, fencing repairs, etc.) So, without this important piece of the picture, it wasn’t possible to understand why the county kept saying trash disposal was such a burdensome, costly service.
Not every person is interested in every (or perhaps any) services that the government offers, but I think that all citizens will have more confidence in the government if it freely discloses what it is doing, how and why.
Our conversation was cordial and informative and I thank Commissioner Raines for taking the time to answer my many questions and discuss this important topic with me.