Garbage is a hot debate

Cleburne County residents will soon see an increase in their trash bills —  an increase that includes a fee at least one official says might be unlawful.

Those bills are expected to arrive soon, reflecting a 20 percent increase in the cost of the service.

Advanced Disposal is the new garbage contractor for the county, and pickup will begin on Nov. 1 for the unincorporated areas of Cleburne County as well as the towns of Ranburne, Edwardsville and Fruithurst.

The bill for a residential customer will increase from $47 a quarter to $56.

The increase includes a $1 per month fee for each account — payable at $3 per quarter — which is collected by Advanced Disposal and is given to the Cleburne County Commission. The bill increase doesn’t sit too well with some, however, such as county resident Jenn Wallace, who lives near Ranburne. Wallace is upset that the “fee or tax” which was added to the new contract was not validated by going through state legislation.

“They didn’t go through legislation but all of a sudden threw it on the contract and said we’ll charge it to the residents, nobody will say anything,” Wallace said.

That was a concern of Cleburne County Commission Chairman Ryan Robertson, too.

While he acknowledges the new contract had expanded requirements which drove up the price, it also established the $1 per month fee, which he strenuously opposes, even questioning its legality.

“It’s my understanding whenever we pass a fee in the county or a tax we’ve always had to go through the Legislature. We have to advertise and then we have to present it to the Legislature,” Robertson said, noting that wasn’t done in this case.

But as chairman, Robertson can’t vote on resolutions that the commission votes on. The resolution passed with full support of the commission with the exception of Commissioner Jake Durham, who voted against it.

“I knew the people wouldn’t appreciate the $1 fee,” Durham said.

Expanded requirements in the new contract will provide trash bins for county buildings including the county jail, county engineer’s office and the Mountain Center. In the past trash bins were paid for out of the general fund, according to Robertson.

Also previously, a fuel surcharge was included on residents’ bills, which meant if the price of fuel for the garbage trucks fluctuated that difference was reflected on their bill. In the new contract the fuel surcharge was eliminated, according to Robertson. He said that bidders had to figure in a possible rise in fuel costs in their respective bids.

Robertson said that garbage pickup has been mandatory since around 1999 for county residents.

“If you don’t pay you’re going to get a citation, but to add a fee, to me, is an added slap in the face,” Robertson said.

According to Commissioner Terry Hendrix the $1 fee by law has to go towards garbage related expenditures; whether to offset the cost of the cleanup days or to have a convenience center for residents to dump their trash.

Commissioner Laura Cobb did vote for the garbage contract with the $1 fee, but later tried to have the fee eliminated.

“Yes, I did vote yes for the $1 fee with the option it could be taken off if the bids were higher than the customers were already paying,” said Cobb, who tried to take the dollar fee off the contract to no avail during a commission meeting last month.

“I was told you can’t do that because it was put in the specs,” Cobb said.

The county attorney, Jason Odom, said that if the specifications were changed after the bid was awarded it could open up the county to liability from unsuccessful bidders.

Cobb wants the $1 fee to be used for a convenience center for county residents to dump their trash three days a week instead of the twice-yearly cleanup day, which she said is a “disaster.”

Cobb hopes that the there will be a convenience center in each commissioner’s district in the future.