County might swap to single garbage collector|[01/30/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The time may have come to have one garbage collection firm responsible for all of Warren County’s nonmunicipal area, District 5 Supervisor Richard George said Tuesday.

“We can’t continue like this,” said George, also board president. “We’re in better shape to do it now than at any other time.”

In 1992, the Legislature directed all counties to adopt ordinances specifying how waste would be collected and disposed.

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Warren County, which had operated landfills but otherwise had no waste operations, closed and sealed its landfills and enacted a first-of-its-type law requiring all county households to hire one of several waste collection firms to provide services.

Residents are billed directly by service providers, who are to pay a $1.25-per-customer surcharge to pay for county monitoring of compliance.

Now, four months after garbage pickup was halted in much of north Warren County due to financial problems reported by one hauler, supervisors are faced with a growing list of delinquent fees again.

The board received word this week of $3,327.50 in unpaid fees it is owed by two firms, Waste Management and Earth Friends Recycling & Disposal, and three private haulers.

In recent years, the system’s use of private haulers has had among its challenges rising fuel prices and insurance for county-mandated packer trucks, irregular coverage zones and collection methods that are at best lax and unorthodox, supervisors said.

“One guy on Campbell Swamp trades catfish for garbage (collection),” District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale said, admitting a change to a single contract hauler will come with its own set of challenges present “anytime you have change.”

One may be maneuvering the large trucks down county roads which are private — often narrow, drainage-poor gravel roads. Still, as service continues down similarly narrow alleys inside the city, supervisors said, it is one that can be overcome.

While talks in the short term may not reach past “ballpark” cost estimates, the board seemed poised to go further and gauge private haulers’ interest in continuing collection.

According to U.S. Census estimates, 10,425 housing units are in nonmunicipal Warren County. With 5,420 households recorded by the two firms and three private haulers as of this month, that leaves 5,005 of them unaccounted for in terms of tracking how garbage was being disposed — down from more than 6,000 a year ago.

Inside Vicksburg, 9,600 customers are charged a monthly fee for sanitation service. Last week, the city board approved a hike in rates from $16.80 to $17.89 to take effect in March. City officials said jumps in disposal and fuel costs prompted the move.

Households not recorded as having paid the monthly surcharge must provide proof in writing that they are attempting to lawfully dispose of residential and commercial garbage. Permission can be given from the owner of a commercial receptacle and residents can also take it to Waste Management themselves if documented.

In September, Earth Friends announced it would pull out of Warren County because of unpaid bills here and from its Madison Parish customers. Less than a week later, supervisors agreed to pay a $4,200 difference in company debts and surcharges owed to the county to keep garbage service running. Recent counts by the company list 606 Warren County households in its customer base.

Waste Management Inc. is the county’s largest provider with 4,366 customers and is contracted to pick up garbage inside Vicksburg. Private haulers handle pickup for 448 customers scattered countywide.