City likely to face more tough choices on garbage service

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 26, 2002

Letting go of workers is always a difficult decision, but it isone Brookhaven aldermen had to make last week as they deal with acity solid waste operation that continues to lose money.

Unfortunately, the lay offs may not be the last of the toughchoices for the board.

While the hope is that the job reductions will balance the solidwaste budget for the upcoming year, the fact of the matter is thatsolid waste costs continue to rise and the city likely will be in asimilar situation next year or sooner.

Trash pick up plan changes and another commercial plan changemay help, but savings will be minimal in the big picture. Anotherfactor to consider is that city equipment will be another yearolder, although city fathers have decided to purchase two newgarbage trucks with bond repayment money from Wal-Mart.

Politics and economics have helped create the city’s currentdilemma.

Environmental law changes that forced the city out of thelandfill operation business also played a role. Tipping fees fordisposing of garbage at an approved private landfill and personnelcosts are the two biggest expenses in the solid waste budget.

Since legislation several years ago requiring solid wasteoperations to be self-supporting through user fees and a small taxlevy, city fathers have been living off the fat of a surplusaccumulated before the change. Past city boards either did not seethe need or did not have the desire to approve politicallyunpopular garbage rate increases.

As the surplus dwindled and the economics of a deficit operationstarted to take over, aldermen last year approved a $2.50 a monthincrease in residential pick up fees to $12. A new commercialcustomer rate schedule, the first changes since 1994, wasauthorized earlier this year.

Sanitation officials last week pointed out that, with someparticular businesses, the city is charged more to dispose of oneday’s garbage than it will collect in pick up fees for the entiremonth!

City officials say commercial pick up is the source of much oftheir solid waste problems. With the overall operation running at adeficit, we question some board members’ continued desire to tinkerwith and lower the commercial rates of some customers.

On the road to a possible solution, we applaud the board’sdecision to seek contract proposals from private garbage pick upoperators. There are pros and cons to the privatization issue, butit is an idea that deserves serious consideration given the city’scurrent situation.