More bad news, but no action, on garbage

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Brookhaven is “skating on thin ice” with its garbage collectionoperations, but city officials are fortunate to still have someoptions in deciding whether to privatize services or continue onits own, a solid waste consultant says.

Butch Lambert told the mayor and board of aldermen duringTuesday’s meeting that sanitation officials had done a good jobwith what they had to work with. However, due to rising personnelcosts, equipment that needs replacing and other concerns, the cityis getting into a “dangerous arena.”

“There are some things out there that are lurking that couldreally cause you problems,” Lambert said.

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Lambert, who did a formal study of the city’s solid wasteoperation in 2001, said personnel costs are “still an alarmingsituation.”

Lambert said personnel salaries and benefits are running at over50 percent of collected revenue, whereas that percentage should bearound 20 to 25 percent. Citing totals after two-thirds for thecurrent fiscal year, the city has collected $725,000 in revenue andspent over $371,000 on personnel expenses.

Also mentioned last night were insurance costs, difficultiesfinding drivers with the proper commercial licenses, equipment andno cash flow to fix trucks.

“These kinds of things will run you into a bad cash problem,”Lambert said.

Brookhaven citizens currently pay $12 a month for garbagecollection. Lambert several times last night suggested the servicecould be provided for half that amount through privatization andcompanies competing for the service.

In 2001, Lambert said he asked the solid waste operator in theGolden Triangle area of north Mississippi to study how much itwould cost to run Brookhaven’s operations. The contractor saidtrucks could be sent from Columbus to pick up Brookhaven garbage athalf the costs, Lambert said.

“That ain’t saying too much for us,” quipped Mayor BillGodbold.

Alderman-at-large Les Bumgarner said Brookhaven should be ableto do the same. However, he also speculated some changes may beneeded.

“We’ve spoiled the people to a certain extent that we pick upanything and everything,” Bumgarner said.

Lambert said running a successful solid waste operation is amatter of volume, and Brookhaven does not have a sufficient volume.Private companies specialize in garbage services and are able touse “economies of scale” for efficient operations.

Brookhaven is receiving some benefit from having a garbagetransfer station nearby. Without it, Lambert said, garbage disposalcosts likely would be over $40 a ton instead of the current$36.

Ward 3 Alderman the Rev. Jerry L. Wilson voiced concerns aboutpersonnel. He is opposed to privatization because of the potentialloss of employees.

“I don’t want to see none of them laid off, because a man has towork and take care of his family,” Wilson said.

Godbold said he had warned Wilson about “politicking,” which thealderman said he was not doing with his comments.

“It’s not a matter of wanting to, it’s a matter of what we gotto do,” Godbold said.

While Lambert mentioned options regarding purchasing, Godboldsaid the city would need “a bunch” of equipment to stay in thecollection business. Lambert and City Attorney Joe Fernald said fewcities in the state still operate their own garbage collection.

“They’re running from it like scalded dogs because they can’tafford it,” Fernald said.

Earlier in his discussion, Lambert spoke about personnel issues.If the service is privatized, the company would need workers whoknow city routes, and other city employees could be moved to otherdepartments.

“You don’t really have a lot of attrition with something likethis if it’s planned right,” Lambert said.

Aldermen took no action following Lambert’s presentation.