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Jackson Solid Waste Division expected to run out of money by the spring

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 6:23 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson’s solid waste division is slated to run out of money in March, and the only way the city can make up for that loss is to raise sanitation rates.

The news was announced at a town hall meeting Thursday night at New Horizon Church International in Jackson.

City Attorney Catoria Martin told the sparse group in attendance that the administration would take a proposal to raise sanitation rates to the city council next week.

If approved, rates would be hiked from $20.84 a month to $35 a month.

“That’s a flat rate, based on picking up trash once a week,” she said. “However, if we end up with twice-a-week (pickups), we’ll probably have to put some type of rate increase structure within the plan for our city going forward, so we can increase the amount for sanitation (to) $45 a month.”

It was not known if the measure would be voted on at the next meeting. According to a copy of the city council agenda, the rate hike is listed under the agenda’s “Introduction of Ordinances” section.

Most introduced ordinances are referred to council committees for further discussion, while others are held over until the following meeting before being voted on. However, the council can suspend rules and vote on ordinances at the meetings where they are introduced.

Martin outlined several problems facing the city’s solid waste division.

Among them, city coffers are being drained by Jackson’s current emergency trash pickup contract.

Jackson entered a six-month emergency agreement with Waste Management in September.

Under terms of that deal, the city paid $10.56 per home for the first month (October) for service and will pay $15 per home for each month after that. Charges are based on the city’s estimate of 53,869 homes.

According to Martin, the “emergency contract is... already killing our budget for solid waste.”

“The problem is we didn’t really have a chance to go in and run the numbers on that contract ahead of time,” she said. “We ran into an emergency situation where we just had to get a contract in place. What that means is the contract we signed is going to make us run out of money in the solid waste division within six months.”

The contract runs through March.

As of August 2021, prior to the contract being signed, the solid waste division was running a roughly $1.7 million deficit, compared with a $572,000 deficit in August 2016, Martin said.

“When we’re that far behind on that service that’s supposed to pay for itself, we end up having to transfer money from the general fund,” she said.

Contributing to the deficit is the fact Jackson continues to struggle with its water billing system. Solid waste fees are included in customers’ bills and are supposed to be paid monthly.

A June report submitted to the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff showed that the city had been unable to collect more than $39.7 million on 14,558 accounts. In some cases, accounts are “stranded,” meaning customers are not receiving bills. In other cases, Jackson residents had not paid because the city temporarily halted water shutoffs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city began water shutoffs again on September 1. It was not known Friday how many customers had been cut off for non-payment or how many bills were currently still stranded.

Jackson issued a new request for proposals (RFP) for trash pickup in October.

According to an addendum to the city’s garbage collection RFP, Jackson billed just 41,000 customers for sanitation, despite the fact that the contract price is based on the price for households for approximately 53,000 homes.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said after the Thursday meeting that even if all customers were receiving and paying bills, rates would still have to go up.

“We learned that the city of Jackson hasn’t raised its rates in more than 12 years. We learned that all of the submissions for waste collections were significantly higher than the rate we currently pay. We learn that the inability to collect the revenue from stranded bills that we’re dealing with in our water billing system - all of those collectively amount to an unavoidable decision, regardless of who wins the RFP, that we have to raise those rates.”

An RFP is a request for proposals. Cities issue RFPs for professional services, such as solid waste collections. Jackson issued an RFP for a new garbage contract in March. Three firms submitted proposals, and all three were more expensive than the city’s contract at the time.

Following the bid evaluation process, the mayor recommended the council approve FCC Environmental Services for once-a-week residential trash pickup. Lumumba said at the time that the city opted for once-a-week pickup option, because it was less expensive than twice-a-week services.

Based on the once-a-week option, FCC proposed charging the city $13.87 per home per month, while Waste Management would charge $14.12 and Richard’s Disposal would charge $14.25.

The council twice voted down the proposal, and the city eventually entered into an emergency contract with Waste Management to continue services for six months.

The city’s Public Works Department issued another RFP in October and is expected to open proposals next week.

The solid waste rate increase being proposed by the administration should help cover costs associated with whichever firm the city chooses during the evaluation process.

“We kept repeating the refrain that it’s going to happen, it’s unavoidable,” Lumumba said. “Not having increased our rates in 12 years, it’s going to happen... There is no other way to turn away from it.”

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