The VDT should dig deeper into the finances of Lowndes County trash collection. Nobody has ever seen an accounting of where where the money went for the county’s former waste collection sites, so nobody knows whether the county was really losing money or how much, and the county’s version of how those sites had to be paid for doesn’t match state law.. Sure, Bill Slaughter defending a decision made when Ashley Paulk was chair is amusing, but instead of transcribing what county officials tell it, the VDT could find lots more under the county’s garbage with a little digging.
Jason Schaefer write for the VDT Thursday, Concerns continue over garbage agreement: Business owner argues case against County
The County is not required under Georgia law to issue RFPs to any company for waste disposal services, according to Slaughter. That decision was made in a good-faith effort to find the lowest possible rate for garbage service for the citizens of Lowndes County, he said Tuesday.
Is that the point of county government, to act like Wal-Mart? Is money the only value the county government can name? Everyone I talked to about the trash issue in 2012 who already had a waste collection card said they’d be willing to pay more to keep the sites open. Maybe if the county had held public hearings they would have learned that.
And does anyone believe ADS’s rates are going to stay that low? Look at Wakulla, Florida, where it’s $196/year. But the bigger question is why did the county privatize trash collection anyway?
The County was hemorrhaging between $400,000 and $600,000 per year to keep its recycling centers open and operate the equipment to haul the garbage, but the money lost did not come out of property tax money.
We don’t know how much the county was losing (if anything), because the county never provided an accounting of what they were spending on the waste collection centers. But what figures they did publish were rapidly decreasing: $400,000 is the final figure County Manager Joe Pritchard gave 9 October 2012 in the meeting when they voted to abolish the collection centers and award a monopoly to Veolia, excuse me, ADS, owned by investors in New York City. A decision on an essentially rural matter was made by three urban Commissioners without any public hearing on their current RFP.
The revenue projections are a little bit complicated.
Commissioner Richard Raines told Gretchen Quarterman 9 October 2012 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.). The county never published a detailed accounting nor any detailed revenue projections. The county can’t even produce a list of the 5,000 people who bought waste collection cards.
And why did the money not come out of property taxes?
“That was paid for out of other incorporated revenues slated to go to services,” County Clerk Paige Dukes said. “Things like other licenses and fees like occupational taxes, alcohol license fees and other permits.”
Property taxes do not go to Advanced Disposal now, nor have they ever gone to solid waste disposal services. Georgia law prevents County governments from using property tax dollars to pay for waste services.
Georgia law actually says, since HB 489 of 1999 modified Georgia code to add in 36-70-24:
(3)(A) The strategy shall ensure that the cost of any service which a county provides primarily for the benefit of the unincorporated area of the county shall be borne by the unincorporated area residents, individuals, and property owners who receive the service. Further, when the county and one or more municipalities jointly fund a county-wide service, the county share of such funding shall be borne by the unincorporated residents, individuals, and property owners that receive the service.
(B) Such funding shall be derived from special service districts created by the county in which property taxes, insurance premium taxes, assessments, or user fees are levied or imposed or through such other mechanism agreed upon by the affected parties which with the intent of subparagraph (A) of this paragraph;
Georgia law explicitly says counties can use property tax dollars to pay for services in the unincorporated parts of a county.
“Residential solid waste in unincorporated Lowndes County has to be paid for by user fees,” Dukes explained. “There were never tax dollars spent on solid waste management. That’s one of the common misconceptions.”
The County Clerk only mentioned user fees, yet HB 489 lists other options: “property taxes, insurance premium taxes, assessments”. That bill also says “Such funding shall be derived from special service districts created by the county”. The county has no excuse for not knowing that, since the Association of County Commissioners spells it out in its Introduction to the Service Delivery Strategy Act for Local Governments:
The intent of this provision is to eliminate double taxation of municipal property owners. When a county provides a service primarily for the benefit of the unincorporated area, the law provides that funding for such service must come from:
- special service districts created by the county in which property taxes, insurance premiums taxes, assessments or user fees are levied or imposed; or
- any other mechanism agreed upon by the affected parties which eliminates double taxation.
Lowndes County passes special tax lighting districts all the time for subdivisions: four of them on one day, 11 December 2012, the same day the Commission passed the final approval for the solid waste ordinance that abolished the collection centers and granted a monopoly to ADS. Chairman Paulk had to be reminded those were supposed to be public hearings, but at least the county did hold public hearings for those special tax lighting districts, which is more than the county did for waste collection.
The county could just as easily pass a special tax district for waste disposal. Yet nobody in the county government, no elected official and no employee, ever deigned to even discuss that option. And now the county is wasting taxpayer money suing Deep South Sanitation, a local business to which the county gave a license. How does that even satisfy Chairman Slaughter’s only named value of saving money for the citizens of the county?
Dig deeper, VDT, and who knows what rats you may find hiding under the garbage in Lowndes County? We already know that the local landfill accepts coal ash. What else are our elected officials and the landfill operator accepting in the name of money?