City trash to go private?

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin told Region 8 News Monday Delta Environmental will present a proposal at Tuesday's Public Works Committee meeting regarding residential garbage pick-up. Perrin said he didn't know the specifics of the proposal and no formal action has been taken. Delta will be allowed to give their presentation before the committee, which will review the option before deciding to bring the measure to the floor of the Jonesboro City Council.

"A company called Delta, and they came to us and said we'd like to make a presentation at the Public Works Committee, and that's where it would start," said Perrin.

Perrin told Region 8 News the proposal is in the very initial stages. If the city decides to move forward, then other decisions will have to made on a variety of issues.

"We're in infancy in this situation. The fact is that something like this needs to be thought out methodically and we've got to look at all the steps that's required if we decide to go that way or not," said Perrin.

Perrin said he preferred a company offer current employees within the Jonesboro Sanitation Department jobs at a comparable pay rate if a private firm is hired to pick up residential garbage.

"Most people that come in when you privatize something like that is obviously the city would want any company to buy the equipment they have," said Perrin.

According to Royce Leonard, Sanitation Superintendent, the city would drop in quality of service if a private contractor is allowed to do the work.

"I don't think that there's any private company, in my opinion, that would give the citizens the level of service currently that the city is giving," said Leonard. "Some cities in the state have had private haulers in the past; have gone back to doing their own service, doing their own trash collection now."

Leonard said the most important question needing to be addressed is that of employment. He wants to know whether a contractor would be required to hire current city employees.

"Whether or not they will be able to have their jobs, what pay scale they would be on, several of them have been here several years," said Leonard. "That's certainly a concern for them and their families, whether or not they'll have their job, what pay scale they'll be making."

Region 8 News wanted to know how the men and women who work on the streets everyday feel about the possibility. Several employees we interviewed said they have concerns about their future employment.

"Are they going to pay us the same of what we're making right now? Are they going to give us benefits like we're doing right now? What are the hours of work?" said Charles Martin. "Everybody has been out here quite some time. You've got some people who have been out here more than 30 years and they're probably making quite a bit more than what I'm making, but they're just kind of concerned themselves with what the new company is going to offer them."

"In my opinion, everybody out here needs their job. We've all worked out here for quite some time. There's others that been out here longer. The city gives a good service to the customers. We get out and pick up the garbage that's on the ground," said Martin.

Perrin said various departments within the city have been told to cut back due to decreasing sales tax revenues. Leonard said the Sanitation Department is operating slightly below its $4.3 million budget for 2009.

"All departments have been giving, have been trimming back and we are trimming back and we'll trim back on our budget for 2010," said Leonard. "We're looking at changing our route system up. We're looking at putting on additional trucks, cutting down on the number of miles that our trucks run. That way that would cut down on the fuel. It would also cut down on the maintenance."

"We're getting our drivers to do our pre-trip and post trip inspections to catch little things to cut down on the amount of maintenance expense that we have," said Leonard.

"In the morning we do a pre-trip inspection on our trucks and make sure we got everything going and no problems with our trucks, leaks or anything. And we all have different routes that we do on assigned days," said Martin.

Perrin explained the stress the city is facing with declining sales tax revenues.

"The Sanitation Department right now is about a $4.3 million budget, and what funds that in reality is the sales tax. Now the sales tax as we have coming in right now, if you look at our total salaries starting back in 2009. If you took the salaries in the city of Jonesboro and all of the employee benefits and add that together, it takes a very high majority of that sales tax simply to pay the salaries. So that leaves the city very little money to purchase equipment or do anything else such as patch roads, fix sidewalks, etc," said Perrin.

Perrin said he has heard both the good and bad sides of privatizing sanitation.

"The top priorities is number one: the employees with the city of Jonesboro would be offered a comparable arrangement of salaries. That's number one and number two: some of the things some of the cities have gotten off on a bad foot is the fact that they didn't provide the quality of customer service that the city of Jonesboro has," said Perrin.

The presentation by Delta Environmental will be made Tuesday night at the Public Works Committee meeting at 5:30 at the Huntington Building.

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