COVINGTON - After months of discussion and hearing proposals from three companies, the Covington City Council voted 4-3 at their Aug. 3 meeting to approve a contract with Latham Home Sanitation for residential garbage, recycling and bulk waste collection, and a 4-3 vote to approve contracts with Latham and Advanced Waste Disposal for commercial solid waste collection.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston cast the tie-breaking vote both times, with council members Michael Whatley, Susie Keck and Josh McKelvey voting for the contracts, and council members Kenneth Morgan, Hawnethia Williams and Anthony Henderson casting the dissenting votes.
The city will continue to handle collecting yard waste and will handle customer service, with the garbage fees continuing to be billed out by the city. Some Sanitation Department employees will transfer to another city department to handle the yard waste pick up.
The collection fees for residents have yet to be determined, but City Manager Leigh Anne Knight assured the council that the new fee will not be greater than the current one and could possibly be less.
The city’s cost in the contract with Latham will be $16.15 per household per month, with one pick up a week. Included in the fee is door-to-door pickup and returning of containers for seniors and disabled citizens. There will be a charge of $8 for each additional container after the first one, which Knight noted is the same price the city now charges for additional containers.
Knight said the city staff is still working on the rate structure for residents, taking into account the cost of bringing some employees over to handle the yard waste, plus customer service.
She added that they expect to take about 60 days before the transition to Latham takes place, and that the council will have to pass an amended ordinance reflecting the new rate structure and a second amended ordinance allowing for a private contractor to pick up garbage in the city.
Bulk waste - appliances, furniture etc. - has been a big problem in Covington. With the city picking it up, there is a charge per pickup. But Latham included bulk waste pick up in its fee, and Latham Operations Manager Bear Keeling told the council Latham will add an extra truck at the beginning to pick up as much bulk waste as citizens want to put out.
“It is our intention to run an extra truck during the initial transition time to get it all cleaned up and everybody on track,” said Keeling. “We just need to make sure we communicate it properly, doing it by neighborhood over a few months.”
Following the initial cleanup period, residents will be allowed to put out two items of bulk waste a week when they put out their garbage cans for pickup.
On the commercial side, Latham will handle small businesses that use the 95-gallon rolling carts, with the same fee for them as for residential pickup. Advanced Waste Disposal will handle the larger businesses that use Dumpsters and rolloff containers, with those fees based on the size of the Dumpster or rolloff and the number times a week it has to be picked up.
Another concern of the city was where the trash will be dumped.
“One of the things we were concerned about was whether the trash would end up going to the county landfill,” said Johnston. “You all (Latham and Advanced) understand the impact to the county and that landfill if we don’t take our tonnage of trash out there. We are their number one customer.”
Barbara Latham Davis, president of Latham Home Sanitation, assured the council that they will use the Newton County Landfill, as long as the roads into and out of the landfill are passable.
“Our price per ton at the Newton County Landfill is $12 cheaper per ton than it is up at the Rockdale County landfill,” said Davis. “So it is in our best interest financially to dump it here. So if at all possible, whenever possible, you have our guarantee that we’re dumping at Newton County Landfill, because it is in our best interest to do so.”
Advanced has said that the majority of the commercial loads that it has will also be dumped at the Newton County Landfill, with possibly the last load of each day going to Advanced’s facility in Jackson.
Johnston said he has been assured by Newton County Commission Chair Marcello Banes that the roads at the landfill will be maintained.
“One of the concerns Latham had was it can be hard at times to get into the landfill without tearing up equipment,” he said. “I’ve been reassured twice by the county that they will make sure to resolve those issues so we can take all the trash to our landfill.”
One of the major concerns for residents was what would happen to the employees in the Sanitation Department. The council has offered to help them transfer to other city departments, get training and resume assistance if they want to look elsewhere for work, and is offering a severance package.
Of the 23 original employees in the Sanitation Department, there are 14 remaining, and Knight said the city is working diligently to get as many placed as possible in vacant city positions, a few to handle the yard waste, placements with Latham and Advanced, and other job opportunities.
“Our hope is that most of them will be placed with new opportunities that would occur as close to the change over as possible,” said Knight.
The initial contracts are for one year, with five additional one-year renewals built in to be approved by the council each year.
During council comments at the end of the meeting, Morgan said even though he didn’t vote for the contract, he will work to make sure it is a success.
“I will do everything that I can to make sure that our employees who are affected will be taken care of, to make sure that our constituents and citizens are happy with the decisions that have been made tonight,” said Morgan.
McKelvey said the city tried to get the Sanitation Department “back on track,” but it wasn’t working, and a change was needed.
“It was a systemic thing that has been there for decades and needed to be fixed,” he said. “Anytime you can get government more lean and provide better services to citizens, I think that is the choice you have to go with.”
Henderson also voted against the contract, but said he is hopeful that privatizing sanitation will provide the citizens more services, possibly for a lower price.
Johnston said the decision came after a lot of work and debate by the council.
“If you think this group, whether it was a split vote or not, made a decision to outsource our sanitation with any sense of lackadaisical, oh we just don’t want to do this any more, that’s insane,” said Johnston. “This has been a lengthy process where we looked at everything. The city has been supplementing sanitation by $250,000 every year for a long time. Longer than I’ve been mayor. It’s about trying to figure out better services for our community.”