The Pike County Fiscal Court plans to take the discussion over a possible 40 percent increase in its solid waste rates to the people of Pike County in a series of meetings throughout the county.
However, during a discussion on the potential hike during Tuesday’s meeting of the fiscal court, officials admitted that the increase won’t be enough to fully “fix” the ongoing issues with the department and the county’s landfill.
During a special meeting last week, Solid Waste Commissioner Bobby Mullins discussed in detail the issues facing the solid waste department and its landfill, located at Ford Mountain Road.
One of the major issues, Mullins pointed out, is that the department operates at a $1 million deficit annually.
That, according to Pike Judge-Executive Ray Jones, is not just a problem, but is also a violation of county ordinance, which requires that the department have a balanced budget.
Mullins said he has tried to increase rates over the six years he has been in the commissioner’s position, but met resistance from previous administrations, which wouldn’t consider increases and expected equipment to last “eternally.”
“When I came to (the position of commissioner of solid waste), I recommended that some residential rates would have to be $20 just for us to operate on a balanced budget, the day-to-day operations,” he said. “That would be not including money for equipment or expanding the landfill, drilling wells, but that’s just so we could operate on a balanced budget.”
Mullins detailed a proposed rate structure Tuesday which would only resolve the department’s deficit, but which would not provide enough money to replace all needed equipment and resolve the issues with the landfill.
The current rate structure sets forth a bill of $17.50 per month for most customers, with low-income customers paying $14 and landlords paying $13.50. The proposed new rate structure, officials said, would result in increases to $25 per month for most customers, with low-income customers paying $19 per month and landlords paying $23 per month. Both currently, and under the proposal, commercial rates would vary, depending on various factors, Mullins said.
The landfill, however, remains a major concern, officials said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Commissioner Brian Booth, who serves as sanitation manager for the City of Pikeville’s public works, which is managed by Utility Management Group, repeated his assertion that the landfill doesn’t have as much time left as has been estimated.
Booth said he’s seen the landfill fill up a great deal in recent months and with demolition on some businesses, in Pikeville in recent and coming days, it will only fill up faster.
“To me, we’re losing time fast, on what we’re going to have to do on a proposal,” he said, adding he’s also seen evidence of recent new slide activity at the site. “Time’s running out fast.”
The members of the court discussed their understanding of the issues surrounding possibly taking Pike County’s trash to a landfill in another county. Booth said his understanding is that a study done on that possibility in Pikeville found that it would require a rate of $55 a month to do that.
Jones also mentioned the possibility of an interlocal agreement with the City of Pikeville or some type of public-private partnership as answers to the landfill issues, but he flatly dismissed the idea that allowing a contractor to take the place of the solid waste department as a solution to the department’s issues.
That, he said, would create a need for a contract which could result in the county being locked in to a deal that would not benefit the people.
“Once that contract’s over ... you’re going to be at the mercy of whoever’s doing your solid waste service,” Jones said. “It’s in the interest of every business owner and every resident of this county that we keep Pike County Solid Waste in operation.”
Further compounding the issues with the landfill and equipment, Jones pointed out that previous courts failed to put aside money to fund solid waste equipment or the needs of the landfill.
“There was supposed to have been, for the purchase of equipment, like four or five percent set aside,” Mullins said. “But there’s not been one dollar to purchase equipment, nothing set aside to open a new landfill or expand.”
At the end of the meeting, the court tentatively set a meeting schedule for a series of four special meetings which will be held mainly to discuss the solid waste issues. Those meetings were tentatively set as follows:
• Tuesday, Jan. 22 at the Phelps Volunteer Fire Department
• Wednesday, Jan. 23 at the Belfry Volunteer Fire Department main station
• Tuesday, Jan. 29 at the Shelby Valley Volunteer Fire Department
• Thursday, Jan. 31 at the Mouthcard Community Center
All meetings are planned to start at 6 p.m.