Debate over county garbage roars onCurrent plan bringing ‘undue heartache,’ supervisor says

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Familiarity and compliance were on opposing sides of the debate Monday over how many haulers Warren County should permit to pick up residential and commercial garbage outside Vicksburg.

“We’ve had a lot of undue heartache trying to seek compliance,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said during a 45-minute “state your case” session between county board members and representatives of five corporate and family-run garbage haulers who do business in the county. In April, the board decided its decades-old system of allowing county residents to contract with the service of their choice should go competitive, which would result in a single hauler for all non-city addresses. “Compliance has to be the order here.”

Smaller operations are more personal and, given a continued choice, they’ll stay busy, according to customers.

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“I had (Waste Management) before,” said Jean Sibley, who contracts with private hauler Oscar Mayfield. “They kept going up, up, up!”

“It’s beneficial to have someone you know picking up your garbage,” Michael Collins, another Mayfield customer, said in supervisors’ conference room Monday.

No formal request for proposals to pick up garbage at county homes and businesses has been made, and Monday’s session — the first lately with all five haulers in the same room — was an indication the fiery pace the board showed on the issue in April has slowed. Its ordinances on the issue, passed between 1992 and 1994 and a stated reason last week for delaying action for a while, were not discussed. The next formal board meeting will be Monday.

Currently, residents and businesses outside the city are responsible for finding their own garbage service. About 6,500 people in non-municipal Warren County have regular pickup or have it disposed of by legal means, most commonly by taking it to a receptacle with the owner’s permission. Waste Management has the largest clientele, with about 4,800 customers. The other permitted companies are Earth Friends Environmental Services and Waste Pro of Mississippi. Private haulers are Mayfield and Billy Drake. A sixth, John Hatchett, retired in April after more than 30 years in business.

Rates and frequency of pickup are variable. Waste Management’s customers pay between $22 and $27 a month. Family-run operations have charged in the high teens per month. Residential rates inside the city were $17.50 in April.

A $1.25 surcharge is added to bills to fund the county’s environmental office, which in turn tracks the number of paying customers to keep the county compliant with rubbish disposal mandates from the state Department of Environmental Quality. Late surcharge payments from haulers and mixups over customer lists, most often caused by people who move and don’t notify their chosen garbage service, have confounded county boards for years. Tardy surcharge payments from haulers have approached $4,000 in recent years and prompted permits to be pulled until they were paid. In 2010, the county began placing holds on car tag renewals until garbage bills were paid.

In general, board members appeared united that a proposal for one hauler was inevitable, based on chronic failures of the current system. Board President Bill Lauderdale declared the system “broke,” while others went deeper.

“We’ve promoted this by letting folks turn in inaccurate records,” George said.

“We’re here because (family haulers) have been taking advantage of Warren County for a long time now,” District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon said. “We’ve been bending over backwards to help out the private haulers.”

District 2 Supervisor William Banks, who, like Selmon, has the bulk of his district inside the city, said the board often can’t reach haulers “to see who’s in charge.”

District 1 Supervisor John Arnold was the lone voice in support of keeping the current system intact.

“People need to have freedom of choice,” Arnold said. “It’s free enterprise, OK.”

Wally Carter, executive vice president of Waste Pro, on Monday took issue with talks April 10 with Buford Clark, Waste Management’s market area manager for community and municipal relations. The company reportedly told two supervisors, Lauderdale and Banks, and County Administrator John Smith that monthly bills between $13 and $14 were not unreasonable if the job was thrown open. Under Mississippi law, contracts for garbage, solid waste and sewage collection and disposal are exempt from competitive bid requirements.

Flanked by private haulers, both of whom are black, Carter said his firm should be credited with creating a favorable market by its mere presence and pleaded with the board to hold out 20 percent of known paying customers for “minority haulers.” Drake and Mayfield voiced support for such consideration.

“We’re the Walmart of the business,” Clark said. “It’s good to see prices are rolled back because we’re here.”

He also played up local connections, at one point claiming “32 first cousins that live in this city” and said the county should dedicate up to 4 mills to garbage collection, as is done in other counties such as Hinds.

Clark disagreed with the idea of taxing for the service, which Waste Management has held inside the city for more than a decade, and said the company’s current customer base is a plus.

“I don’t have all the connections to kinfolks here,” Clark said. “But, I’ve been in the business a long, long time.”

Rogers King, CEO of Fayette-based Earth Friends, which picks up garbage in much of the Eagle Lake community, asked for a “probationary period” for current permit holders, with no other specifics.

“It’s just a win-win deal when you keep your local folks involved,” King said.