County should have dumped garbage service

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Trash talk has become commonplace recently for the Walker County Commission.

While some members have gotten a little snippy with each other at times, the talk at two recent work sessions and one special called meeting was literally about trash.

The discussion on what to do with solid waste in the county began back in September 2020 when officials with Republic Services and Amwaste bid on taking over the residential garbage service in the county and met with the commission concerning those bids.

The trash talk continued in March with a three-hour work session, where officials released a proposed 30-percent jump from $42 per quarter to $59 per quarter if the county remained in the residential business. 

Commission chairman Steve Miller said in March a survey sent out to customers had come back with overwhelming support that the county handle garbage service and not turn it over to someone else. The Daily Mountain Eagle asked for a copy of those survey questions, but to date still hasn’t received a copy from the county. However, I did come across a copy of the survey, and to say it was skewed and had some half-truths or complete fabrications might be an understatement. 

That survey gave solid waste customers two options. The first was the county should continue to handle residential garbage service at a cost of $59 per quarter. The second option was if the service should be outsourced to a private company at the same rate as the first option. Throughout both work sessions, the cost per quarter from a private company has been set at $44.94. Remember, the current rate is $42 per quarter.

The Daily Mountain Eagle did an online poll the week of March 15 giving three options. Option 1 was the county would continue to provide garbage service with a 30-percent rise in residential rates to $59 per quarter. Option 2 was for the county to get out of the solid waste business altogether by selling to a private business, raising residential garbage rates to $44.94 per quarter. The third option was for the county to keep some solid waste services, such as the landfill in Jasper and roll back services, but contract with a private company for garbage service with rates at $44.94 per quarter.

In our poll, Option 3 had 53 percent of the votes, Option 1 had 27 percent of the vote. Option 2 had 20 percent of the vote. We feel those numbers were more reliable, because more information was given for responses to be more thought out.

The survey sent to customers also mentioned the anticipated closure of Pineview Landfill near Dora as the reason for considering any changes to solid waste services. In recent meetings, that anticipated closing has been said by some to not be a reason to change, because that may not even happen in five years. Unfortunately, representatives from the owners of the landfill have said the closing is going to happen, saying they have tried to keep it open but seem to be at an impasse.

Another three-hour work session took place in April with basically the same information given out, but the price for the county to remain in the residential garbage business dropped to $49. Unfortunately, if the Pineview Landfill does close in 2025, that number would go up approximately $12 per quarter at that time to cover the costs of having to take garbage to an outside the county landfill.

During the first work session, a thought from some commissioners seemed to be that keeping the residential service was a good thing so the county remained in control. That issue wasn’t raised at the second work session, but the reasoning for keeping the service had shifted to making sure current employees did not lose their jobs and that providing the service via the county, especially if the service is made mandatory for all citizens, would miraculously solve the county’s litter and illegal dumping issues.

The private companies had already said they would look to current employees to fill needed jobs. The county could also shift other employees into different jobs. I don’t blame any commission member for thinking about its employees.

The litter issue has nothing to do with mandatory garbage pickup. The service has been mandatory in Jasper for years, and it hasn’t helped with the litter issue in the city. I drive down North Walston Bridge Road every day, and I’m appalled at the litter. District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt mentioned the litter issue is generational, and that is true. Before the pandemic, county officials were visiting schools and talking about how terrible and disrespectful littering is. I would be happy for myself and the DME to partner with the county to bring that initiative back. Adults who litter have no respect for themselves or anyone else. Reaching the next generation is how we combat littler.

I lived in the county for the first 23 years of my life, and the issue of residential garbage service in the county should be looked at through one lens – what is best for the citizens of the county. Raising rates isn’t the answer. I don’t think purchasing new equipment is the answer, because the cycle of poor performance will continue, because it cannot sustain itself. The employees in solid waste work as hard as they can, but the county isn’t the experts on trash. A private company, such as Republic Services or Amwaste, is the expert on dealing with trash. It wouldn’t take them a month to get a wheel fixed on a garbage can. They wouldn’t miss cans and have to come back days later. They operate in the majority of states, and their performance has to be above par or they wouldn’t have been in business this long.

I sat through more than seven hours hearing about solid waste services in our county, and the commonsense answer to me was to let a private company handle it, because that would ensure rates at a certain level and quality of service at a certain level. It would be a contract for three to five years. 

The commission should have paid attention to a photograph recently posted on its own Facebook page that had a drop box for solid waste payments, but had the words “DROP SOLID WASTE” on the outside of the box.

The group has now voted 3-2 (Chairman Steve Miller, D2 Jeff Burrough and D3 Jim Borden in the majority, with D1 Keith Davis and Aderholt in opposition) to remain in the residential garbage service for the foreseeable future, but the question of how much and cost on equipment has yet to be determined, and the question of how much rates will be for customers has also yet to be answered. That tells me the trash talk will continue for a while.

James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daliy Mountain Eagle. He isn’t an expert on garbage service, but he has been known to talk trash on the basketball court over the years. Phillips may be reached at 205-221-2840 or james.phillips@mountaineagle.com.