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Changes to Trash Pickup Rates Could Be Coming

Some commissioners are also interested in reviving a proposal to limit the number of private trash collectors in Athens, they said at their Aug. 14 work session during a discussion on rates for garbage and recycling collection.

The ACC Solid Waste Department is an enterprise fund that is supposed to pay for itself, through fees for trash pickup and dumping trash at the landfill, and by selling recyclable materials to manufacturers. But lately a soft market for recyclables has meant that the landfill fund has had to subsidize the recycling program. The county hired consultant Abby Goldsmith to suggest ways to balance out the equation.

One option is a recycling education fee on property tax bills, Goldsmith said. Including the fee on tax bills would mean that everyone pays it, not just ACC Solid Waste customers. The county could also raise the tipping fee—the price per ton paid by haulers to dump trash at the landfill—or raise collection fees on commercial customers, whom Goldsmith said aren’t paying their fair share.

One factor to consider, according to Goldsmith: Would raising the tipping fee push more haulers to use landfills outside Clarke County? Lowering them might actually bring in more revenue if more haulers used ACC’s landfill—but then it would fill up more quickly.

The presentation prompted renewed discussion of franchising, a system where county officials would select one private hauler to provide trash pickup in the “general services district,” aka outside the pre-1991-unification city limits (or divide the county into zones and choose one hauler for each zone). ACC only provides residential pickup within the “urban services district”—an area roughly bordered by the Loop and the Middle Oconee River, plus the Homewood Hills neighborhood off Jefferson Road.

Commissioner Jerry NeSmith said his suburban constituents complain about four or five garbage trucks a week going through their neighborhoods, and private haulers sometimes mix trash with recycling and throw it all into the landfill.

“I think it would be very beneficial to the community” to limit haulers, Commissioner Jared Bailey said. “I think we need to choose the ones who provide the best service and stick to the rules.”

Commissioners rejected franchising in 2009 because of staunch opposition from private haulers and their customers. Instead, they limited the number of haulers but grandfathered in existing ones. There are now five, down from 16, according to Solid Waste Director Suki Janssen.

Commissioner Andy Herod predicted another “hornet’s nest” if the commission tries to institute franchising again. “You’re taking choice away from people who previously had it,” he said.

“I think you’ll find the landscape has changed since that time,” NeSmith said.

Whether public or private, the county should require everyone to have trash pickup, said Commissioner Allison Wright, and stop allowing people to take their waste to the landfill themselves. “I think we’re naive in thinking people are doing the right thing with their trash and their recycling,” she said. But Commissioner Sharyn Dickerson said people like her who live near the landfill and generate little waste shouldn’t be required to pay $15 per month.

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