Solid Waste issue demands a fair solution

by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive

Last Tuesday, County Commissioners voted to change the Solid Waste fee billing year from November – October to a calendar year cycle, January – December. The annual bill you usually get this month won’t arrive until January 2024.

The additional two months will give Commissioners time to consider fair solutions to a situation we face in solid waste disposal.

The cost of transporting Lawrence County garbage to a landfill in Walnut, Mississippi is going from $38.85 to $65 a ton. 

Waste Solutions, which does that transportation for us, kept our costs very low for many years but the expiration of our current contract calls for this 67% increase. We’ll get bids from other haulers, but I have learned that $65/ton is a standard charge for the service.

We have this service because Lawrence County does not have a landfill for household garbage. We have an old one that is full. It requires constant attention to make sure its leachate stays out of our water and the methane gas it produces doesn’t explode.

No one wants a landfill in their neighborhood, so we pay to have our household garbage hauled to Mississippi from our transfer station on Baler Drive in Lawrenceburg.

That is the service your solid waste fee pays for, not the service that picks up garbage at your curb and takes to the transfer station. If you live in one of our municipalities, you pay your city to pick up your garbage. In the county you may pay a private hauler or bring your own garbage to the transfer station. No matter how your garbage gets to the transfer station, it has another journey to make from there, and Lawrence County is responsible for that, by law.

Everything costs more than it did in 2005. Back then the national average was $1.22 for a dozen eggs, $1.04 for a loaf of white bread, and $3.19 for a gallon of milk. The average cost of gas in January 2005 was $1.92 a gallon; diesel was $1.96.

2005 is significant because that’s when our annual solid waste fee was set at $54. Unlike everything else, that price has remained the same for the past 18 years. The cost to haul garbage to Mississippi hasn’t stayed the same, but Lawrence County absorbed additional costs to avoid the political nightmare of a FAIR solid waste fee.

Rising costs in the Solid Waste Department have been covered by property tax revenues, when only 38% of us own property. That’s not fair. Neither is the fact that property tax also pays for the 28% of households that refuse to pay their solid waste bill. A collection agency takes on the worst offenders for us, but takes a share of the proceeds.

There are other places our property tax revenues could go instead of shoring up Solid Waste. We could pay better wages to our deputies, School Resource Officers and corrections officers. Our ambulance service could have more modern equipment. We could extend water lines.

Lawrence County has to pay its bills. When the cost of disposal goes up, the best we can do, at this point, is divide that increase as fairly as possible. I have ideas about ways to privatize aspects of our Solid Waste operation and cut county costs, but those solutions are not quick fixes.

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