Facing shortfall, City increases Solid Waste rates

Published 4:00 pm Friday, May 13, 2022

Solid waste pickup rates will increase in the City of Brookhaven.

Accountant Pat Lowery presented the completed Fiscal Year 2019 audit to the Board of Aldermen Thursday in a special-called meeting. One item on the report needed more than just acknowledgement from the board — a large decrease in available funds in the Solid Waste Department.

“This is the thing that needs your most immediate attention,” Lowery said.

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As of Sept. 30, 2019, the cash balance in the SWD was just more than $1.6 million. Today, that balance is at $261,000.

Lowery explained that board members at that time voted to suspend collecting a 4 mill tax for solid waste disposal, since the cash on hand was so high. With the great increases of costs in disposal rates, grinding debris, fuel costs and increased regulations by the Department of Environmental Quality, that cash balance has decreased dramatically.

“You need to look at how to bolster that cash balance, whether it’s through millage — a long-term solution — or more immediately with an increase in the rates,” Lowery said.

“Is this the only area you see concern?” Ward 4 Alderman Jeff Henning asked the auditor.

“Yes,” he answered.

Seven months into the current fiscal year, the City has already spent $374,000 in chipping and grinding fees in order to meet updated DEQ requirements at the landfill.

When the millage tax was eliminated “to ease the burden on the taxpayer,” Lowery said, it kept approximately $400,000 annually from being added to the SWD balance.

“But now you actually need that $400,000 a year,” he said.

Disposal costs have increased per ton in that time period from $7 to $31, Mayor Joe Cox said, accounting for part of the increased spending. Public Works Supervisor Keith Lewis added that the DEQ requires grinding of debris every 8 weeks now, with no stockpiling to grind later.

“It cannot operate on the amount of money coming in right now,” Lowery said. “It’s got to be an increase in taxes, or user fees.”

An increase in millage would not create an immediate relief, so would have to be a budget consideration for the coming year, City Attorney Bobby Moak said.

“We need some relief starting July 1,” Mayor Cox said. Cox also noted that the majority of other cities across the state are facing the same cost increases and challenges.

“For the short term, you’re going to have to go up on rates,” said Lowery.

A $7 increase per account would increase the balance by $26,600 per month, according to City Clerk Samantha Melancon.

“When do we need to act on this by?” asked Ward 6 Alderman Andre’ Spiller.

“Time is of the essence,” Lowery replied. “Soon.”

The board voted unanimously to accept the audit report, and to enact the $7 increase effective July 1. It is the first increase since 2019, when charges went up by $1.50. Ward 2 Alderman Shannon Moore was absent.

“I know it doesn’t make anybody feel better that everybody is in the same situation,” Cox said.