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Waste Pro unhappy with fees

A spat between county supervisors and their former garbage company is about to go from the trash can to the courtroom.

Former county trash collection contractor Waste Pro has rejected the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors’ plan to settle on the company’s final payments by deducting expenses for picking up Waste Pro’s misses, instead demanding payment in full for the final two months of their now-expired contract. Supervisors have kept records on their costs for fuel, time, manpower, and wear and tear on county vehicles while they used work crews to pick up garbage all summer, and were planning to dock around $143,000 out of the company’s August and September payments — which total approximately $160,000.

But Waste Pro’s attorney has said, essentially, “see you in court.”

“I think they allowed we could keep $7,000, or somewhere around that figure. It’s gonna end up in court,” said District 4 Supervisor Eddie Brown. “They said we didn’t pick up a big percentage of garbage, but they sure weren’t picking it up.”

Supervisors began developing a fee schedule based on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s government reimbursement rates in early September after a summer of missed pickups forced them to put their road crews on garbage routes. The board tried withholding two months’ worth of payments from Waste Pro then, but the company threatened to skip out on the final weeks of its contract and leave the county without service.

The board voted unanimously to enact the fee scale later that week, and supervisors have been keeping track of mileage, time, gas bills, addresses and garbage amounts ever since. Supervisors have considered Waste Pro’s misses a breach of contract and maintain the deductions are allowed under a “cure breach” clause in the company’s contract.

The decision came after a summer of missed pickups supervisors tried to deal with in several ways. 

As the number of complaints mounted throughout the year, supervisors established a missed pickup hotline in the tax collector’s office, summoned Waste Pro officials to board meetings to explain the situation — a company officer told the board in July everything would get better — placed trash bins around the county for residents who wanted to clear out their own garbage and finally enacted the fee scale. 

The misses caused Waste Pro to get thrown out of the county and the City of Brookhaven, both of which awarded three-year contracts to Alabama-based Arrow Disposal Service Inc. in July. The 2018 garbage experience led supervisors to build penalties into its new contract with Arrow, whom they immediately asked to set up early and take over from Waste Pro before the Oct. 1 start date of the contract. Arrow declined the early start, citing contract rules.

Waste Pro’s service declined rapidly after Arrow won both new contracts, as workers fled the company in search of new jobs before the lights turned off. The company tried to adjust by bringing in extra equipment and promising bonuses to employees who stayed on, but supervisors eventually wrote the company off and accepted their temporary role as garbage men.

Complaints from the public have rolled in, and continue to do so. Some of the residents at Lincoln County’s 9,119 households have claimed they’ve gone weeks or months without seeing a garbage truck and have questioned why they should have to pay the quarterly $42 garbage bill, which has to be settled before a car tag is purchased. Supervisors in October voted to waive one month of the bill — $14 — which cost the county’s garbage fund around $127,000.

That wasn’t enough for Richard Lachney, a District 2 resident who lives down the road from Sontag. He appeared before supervisors Monday and explained — he paid for the first quarter of 2018 and, after Arrow took over, paid for the last quarter; but he doesn’t want to pay for the middle of the year.

“They never picked up at all after March. I started dumping my garbage at the barn, and I took care of my garbage for seven months. I want my bill straightened out,” he said. “Why should I pay for a service I never got? I’m not paying $42 every three months for me to have to take care of my own garbage.”

Supervisors told Lachney the one-month rebate was all the county could afford to give.

“We can’t go back and say, ‘seven months time $127,000,’” Brown said Monday. “We’ve done the best we can do to make it through a hard time.”

District 5 Supervisor Doug Falvey said supervisors also can’t award refunds on a case-by-case basis because there’s no way to verify whose garbage was picked up and whose wasn’t. He also pointed out residents’ garbage bills pay for transfer fees and other costs beyond just home pickup.

But Lachney said District 2 Supervisor Bobby Watts had never picked up his garbage.

“We know in districts 4, 5, 3 and 1, we picked up garbage,” said District 1 Supervisor and board president the Rev. Jerry Wilson. “We made sure all our bosses’ garbage was picked up. Why it didn’t happen over here, we don’t know.”

The board declined to waive the $84 owed by Lachney, who left the board room angry.

“I think we need Trump up here,” he said as he walked out.