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City revamps waste dept.

Brookhaven aldermen Tuesday approved a solid waste departmentreorganization designed to improve operational efficiency and votedto suspend enforcement of a controversial requirement that leavesand pine straw be bagged.

The reorganization comes as city employees work to get garbageand trash collection caught up after the holidays, and city leadersstruggle with an operation that lost $105,000 in fiscal year 2002that ended in September, according to an audit report presentedlast night. Reorganization-related changes take effect Feb. 1.

“None of us is proud of the way the city looks at this time,”said Ward 4 Alderman Bob Massengill, a member of an aldermensubcommittee that recommended the changes.

Massengill was optimistic that the plan would produce “realimprovement” in the trash pick up area in 30-45 days.

“We want to be more efficient, and that’s what we’re workingtoward,” Massengill said.

NEW PLAN

The reorganization plan, which was unanimously approved, leavesSanitation Department Superintendent James Arnold in charge ofgarbage collection and disposal and puts assistant Willie W. Smithin charge of trash collection and disposal. Both will have equalauthority and responsibility for running their area of thedepartment.

Trash is considered to be leaves, limbs, pine straw and otheryard waste. Garbage is considered food and other household wasteitems. Officials have stressed that garbage and trash items shouldnot be mixed.

The plan adopted Tuesday divides the city into four areas fortrash collection Monday through Thursday. Garbage collectionservices will remain unchanged, with a Monday-Tuesday andThursday-Friday pick up schedule staying intact.

BAGGING SUSPENDED

Tuesday’s board action followed comments, some critical, fromseveral citizens who appeared at the meeting to voice concernsabout city solid waste activity. Citizens mainly focused on a needfor a more efficient work force and to protest a city plan torequire leaves, pine straw and other yard waste to be bagged.

Aldermen voted 5-2 to suspend enforcement of the baggingrequirement for 90 days. The bagging activity was to take effectFeb. 1.

Massengill said that would allow time for the reorganizationplan to take effect.

“I’d like to see how this plan will work,” he said. “If we’restill losing money, we’re going to have to do something else.”

Ward 5 Alderman Tom Smith, also a member of the solid wastesubcommittee, and Ward 3 Alderman the Rev. Jerry L. Wilson votedagainst the motion. Smith, who said he had heard only one complaintabout the leaf bagging plan, questioned the need to havesubcommittee if their recommendations were not going to befollowed.

CITIZEN COMMENTS

During comments earlier in the meeting, citizens touched on avariety of issues.

John Perkins said the city board was “not running the town, butruining the town” with its actions. He said basic city services,including solid waste, were being jeopardized.

“Without these services, no city can thrive and grow,” Perkinssaid, who also expressed concerns about the impact of theleaf-bagging requirement on the elderly.

Perkins said the present system is flawed and inefficient.Alluding to Mayor Bill Godbold’s published comments last week,Perkins said the city needs employees who are “properly motivatedand supervised.”

“I think that may be a large part of our problem in the city,”Perkins said.

Perkins encouraged the board to get priorities in the properorder and to not take the easy way out of a situation. He saidcitizens are watching closely and, if current board members can’tsolve the problem, they should step aside and let someone elseattempt it.

“Are you running this next time?” the mayor asked Perkins.Perkins said no.

Wilson objected to the critical comments about the city’s workforce. He said the city has pretty good employees, and he was alsohopeful that changes would lead the city out of its currentproblems.

“I think we’re on the right track,” Wilson said.

Referring to the $105,000 lost last year, Ward 2 Alderman TerryBates said the city had to do something to try and solve theproblem. He said the bagging requirement was a way to try to getcitizens to accept some of the responsibility for helping get ridof their waste.

“We’re not trying to put a burden on anybody, but whatever youdo you’re going to put a burden on somebody,” said Bates, whomentioned complaints the board would receive if it raised garbagerates.

LEGISLATURE BLAMED

Godbold and City Attorney Joe Fernald blamed the statelegislature for passing a 1992 law that required solid wasteoperations to be self-supporting and limited to four mills theamount of property tax revenue that could be used to pay forservices. One mill on city property taxes brings in about $60,000 ayear, officials said.

“It’s a problem the city has been wrestling with legally andfinancially in trying to be fair,” Fernald said.

Fernald said the legislature’s reasoning was that property taxesshould not be used to pay for a service that should be supported byuser fees. Alderman at large Les Bumgarner later suggested the citysend a letter to the legislature saying the taxpayers’ money shouldnot be used to pay for special sessions.

Godbold also cited employee-related retirement and insurancecosts covered by the city.

“We give our employees a lot more than private contractors do,”Godbold said.

OTHER OPTIONS

In other citizens’ comments, Steve Melancon touted the benefitsof composting leaves, recycling and the possibility of acentralized location for citizens to dump their trash. He saidcitizens would help in that area if the city made it easy to doso.

“There’s a lot of good ideas out there if we just look intothem,” Melancon said.

Tuesday’s action leaves intact a plan to discontinue commercialgarbage pick up next month.

Bumgarner sought to continue pick up for small commercialestablishments that are similar to residents and put out four cansor garbage or less at a time. Other officials indicated there wouldbe problems defining small commercial customers, and they alsoexpressed a desire to continue to follow the solid waste panel’srecommendation.

“If we start backing up now, we’re going to have to back up allthe way,” Godbold said.

Later in the meeting, officials took exception to citizens’earlier comments about the number of days off city employees aregranted. City officials said they take only designated state andfederal holidays.

Godbold’s comments focused on the citizens’ backgrounds and howthey came into money.

“They don’t want to see anybody else get a nickel … and youcan tell them I said it,” said Godbold, prompting some laughter inthe board room as other officials pointed out the meeting was beingtelevised.

In related activity, City Clerk Iris Rudman updated the board onsolid waste revenue and expenditures for the first three months offiscal year 2003. For October, November and December, Rudman saidrevenue is running $20,378 ahead of expenditures.

“We’re holding our own,” Rudman said.

Rudman also pointed out an oversight in a new agreementregarding Waste Management’s running the city- and county-ownedgarbage transfer station. The oversight resulted in lost revenuethat could be use to pay for solid waste services.

A new agreement, approved in August 2000, omitted a provisionthat the private operator pay a $2,500 a month operation fee to runthe station. An old agreement, when the station was run by BFI,contained the provision, Rudman said.

The transfer station contract will be up for renewal in August2003.

“That’s just a way to get more efficient and get some moremoney,” Rudman said.