Privatization considered for L'burg trash service

Friday, March 12, 2010
Gerry Burke, Tennessee Area Municipal Services Manager for Republic Services, the parent company for Allied Waste, speaks with Lewisburg's City Council.

Faced with uncertainty because the state's not decided whether Cedar Ridge Landfill must be closed, Lewisburg's City Council is on the verge of hiring a company to collect and dispose of residents' trash.

"We're ready to take the worry out of it and save you some money by privatizing it," said Gerry Burke, Tennessee Area Municipal Services Manager for Republic Services, the parent company for Allied Waste, which operates the landfill north of Murfreesboro.

However, Councilman Ronald McRady wants the Council to meet with the Marshall County Commission to see if a contract including the county and three municipalities could lower prices. And Councilman Quinn Stewart wouldn't vote on a contract she'd not read, so the council deferred the vote until April 13.

There's enough time to wait. City Attorney Bill Haywood established during discussion at the Council meeting Tuesday night that only about half of the 90-day hold on prices had expired.

Republic Services/Allied Waste submitted the best bid of $11.75 per month per household in Lewisburg, a price that's extended to Cornersville and Chapel Hill if those towns want to join with Lewisburg.

Residents here pay $12.50 per month now, but that includes brush collection and curbside recycling service.

Republic Services/Allied Waste would provide each residence with a 90-gallon trash cart on wheels, according to Gerry Burke's presentation to the Council Tuesday night. Collections would be hauled to a transfer station in Giles County and then to Middle Point Sanitary Landfill at Walter Hill north of Murfreesboro.

Acknowledging some hesitancy among the councilmen, Mayor Barbara Woods said, "We don't have to do this at this instant." Councilman Odie Whitehead asked, "What do we stand to gain if we wait?" Stewart's reply: "I just got this contract and don't want to vote on something I don't know about."

Councilman Robin Minor endorsed the mayor's observation: "Even then, (at the April 13 meeting,) we don't have to decide then" because the price is guaranteed for about two weeks thereafter.

McRady again endorsed a joint meeting with the County Commission and city Manager Eddie Fuller pointed out, "That's 23 people."

The Marshall County Commission's Solid Waste Committee has developed a short-term plan on what to do if the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation denies Waste Management's request for a permit to expand Cedar Ridge Landfill. That plan includes an annual $160 solid waste removal fee per residence not served by a municipality.

Lewisburg city-owned garbage trucks take residents' trash to Cedar Ridge just west of town and north of the Mooresville Highway.

Meanwhile, the city's trash collection system will soon face equipment and personnel costs, the city manager reported Tuesday.

Several Public Works employees are about to retire, Fuller said. And the city's street sweeping machine has broken down.

"There are a lot of things that we could gain from privatizing" the city service, Fuller said. Republic Services/Allied Waste employees wouldn't be constricted by the city employee's work schedule, meaning there wouldn't be as many weeks with adjusted collection schedules because of holidays.

"If we keep picking up, we're probably looking at about $125,000" in costs, Fuller said.

McRady wanted examination of "the whole picture," and Minor asked about a $130,000 annual savings from free dumping to be made available at Cedar Ridge if the state permitted expansion.

In 2008, Lewisburg was considering whether expansion of Cedar Ridge would meet standards set by the state. Waste Management offered the city free dumping at Cedar Ridge Landfill if the Council decided to relinquish its authority to judge the plan, effectively restarting state consideration of the permit. The city had been budgeting $130,000 annually for trash disposal at the landfill here, so that became the value assigned to free dumping.

Council decided to reject that opportunity, but the offer remained available, according to statements at the time by John P. Williams, attorney for Waste Management Inc.

Now, with TDEC's commissioner issuing in December a tentative decision against expansion of Cedar Ridge, Burke says the bid from Republic Services/Allied Waste includes services for which the city would be paying $130,000; that being tipping fees at Middle Point Sanitary Landfill at Walter Hill in Rutherford County.

"As soon as you're ready," Burke said, "we're ready to serve."

As McRady pressed for a city-county meeting, the mayor said that's not necessary and Councilman Whitehead pointed out that the price of fuel is going up, so Republic Services/Allied Waste's price might be higher if the city lets the current bid expire.

Noting McRady's insistence for a joint meeting, Burke said, "I can't say who will benefit if you bundle up (services for several local governments in hopes of getting a better price) but we're offering a cure where you don't have to wait" for a decision by the state.

McRady replied, "I appreciate your offer, but I want the best deal."

Burke explained the best price is reached when there are many homes close together, and, "We feel we're given you the best rate."

That being the bottom line, and with more time to study the matter, the Council unanimously agreed to defer the decision.