Commission decision favors fairness

by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive

In a Special Session December 28, Commissioners made the tough but necessary decision to raise Lawrence County’s residential solid waste fee from $54 to $102 a year.

Tough, because no one wants to increase the amount of money you pay local government – that’s why the solid waste fee hasn’t changed since 2005. Necessary, because the price to send our garbage to a Mississippi landfill went from $38.85 to $65 a ton this past October.

Bids for a new hauler contract were opened in early December and the lowest, $62 a ton, was approved by the Budget and Solid Waste committees. Commissioners used that price to set the new solid waste fee, which covers the cost of hauling garbage from our transfer station to an out-of-county landfill.

I am glad Commissioners chose to fund this increase through the solid waste fee rather than a property tax increase. Counties without solid waste fees are funding the service with property tax, but the fairest way is to share the cost among everyone who produces garbage, not just property owners.

The Commission will continue to strive for fairness. During weeks of discussion about solid waste services, we learned some commercial customers that produce large amounts of garbage are not being charged an appropriate solid waste fee. We are working to identify those accounts, and make further adjustments to our commercial solid waste rate.

We will also step up collection enforcement. It is completely unfair that 29% of Lawrence County households, and a few businesses, simply refuse to pay the solid waste fee. Collection of some long-overdue accounts has been successful, but many have not. Commissioners are discussing options with the Sheriff’s Department and our county attorney. We also plan to publish the names of those who do not pay, just like those who fail to pay their property tax.

We pay a solid waste fee because we don’t have a landfill in Lawrence County. We have an old one that is full and requires constant attention to make sure its leachate stays out of our water and the methane gas it produces doesn’t explode. The waters of Shoal Creek and other streams across our county are very pure, and we shouldn’t risk harming them. Very few new landfills for household garbage are approved by the state. The process would take years, and the cost to build and maintain a landfill is considerable.

Please remember the fee breaks down to just under $2 a week, less than a gallon of gas. Low-income residents can take advantage of solid waste fee discounts, and anyone can choose to break the fee up into monthly installments.

Commissioners chose the best possible solution for paying these new solid waste costs. I know it was a hard decision, but leaders are required to do things that aren’t always popular. Thanks to them for making the fairest, most responsible choice.

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