Garbage pickup smoother in year after big change

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Waste Management crew collects garbage Thursday afternoon on Falcon Ridge Road in Warren County. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

A Waste Management crew collects garbage Thursday afternoon on Falcon Ridge Road in Warren County. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Lindsay Unland is the kind of resident Warren County officials like when comes to garbage pickup. 

When the USM grad moved into a house in Falcon Ridge subdivision in May, she asked a friend who happened to live in the neighborhood how she should have household garbage picked up.

“There was about a week gap between when we requested trash service to when we actually had our trash picked up,” Unland said. “You have to request it online and I didn’t hear back from them for a while.”

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The first bill was about $65, with amounts tacked on to cover parts of two different quarters of the year. Pickup is twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday. Waste Management, with whom Unland has the service, is the sole garbage hauler outside Vicksburg as well as inside the city. Sometimes they show up around 7 a.m., in keeping with its offer to the county nearly a year ago. Sometimes, the trucks show up after noon.  As long as they show up twice a week, Unland is fine with that.

Overall, the scenario has played out as smoothly for 6,500 garbage customers since the Warren County Board of Supervisors bid out garbage collection last September in hopes of having but one company doing the service. A single hauler ended a mixed system of established corporate haulers and small, family-run operations in use for decades in the county outside Vicksburg city limits.

Waste Management’s offer proposed rates of $17.49 a month and $52.47 a quarter for twice weekly service. The monthly rate is a penny less than that negotiated by the city for city residents in 2012 and 18 cents less than the only other competing bid for the county’s business. Rolled into the rates was a $1.25 surcharge that funds the county’s environmental officer and building permit field officer. The two positions track the number of paying customers to satisfy disposal laws enforced the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

Previously, as many as six firms or individuals were permitted to haul garbage in nonmunicipal Warren County. Chronic headaches for their 5,000 or so customers and the county’s bean counters were numerous, most memorably the use of pickup trucks to haul trash or shoddy records kept on who was actually paying for pickup. Haulers who missed deadlines to pay the environmental surcharge prompted supervisors to pull permits and wait on as much as $4,000 to be repaid.

The arrangement is largely the same — garbage service in the county follows the person, whereas the city’s contracts with Waste Management since 2001 have followed each city address. What’s different now, officials contend, is a better system of checks and balances — notifications from the company when it’s apparent someone has moved away and the next homeowner or renter isn’t listed tops on the bill are coming in quicker.

“There’s less companies to have to deal with and we don’t have the problem of not knowing who was with what hauler,” Board President Bill Lauderdale said. “Also, part of the county that wasn’t getting service twice a week is getting service now.”

Guarantees built into Waste Management’s contract assure the company will be paid for delinquent accounts after 90 days. As was the case under the old system, the county must move money over from the general fund to the garbage fund to cover those costs, and then repay the general fund. Supervisors were transferring as much as $24,000 at a time and, occasionally, as much as $60,000 in a single month in the latter years of the old system. In fiscal 2014, only two transfers totaling $10,328.85 have been approved. The final $1,011.82 of it is expected to be repaid this month.

“It appears everything is steady,” County Administrator John Smith said. “In the past, it was a hodgepodge of problems.”

Under state law, counties may place a hold on a person’s car tag renewal for not paying garbage fees. It’s an option officials said they’d continue to use to make a single-hauler system effective.

“It seems to have run much, much better,” District 1 Supervisor John Arnold said. “And we’ve been able to keep the price down.”