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Vidalia may take out sanitation department

VIDALIA — For a long time, Vidalia has been one of the few municipal holdouts in the state to continue to offer city-operated garbage collection.

But now, the cost of providing that service to 1,729 households and many of the city’s 286 businesses has escalated to the point that the city is considering privatizing waste disposal. Mayor Hyram Copeland said the city lost $275,000 operating the sanitation department last year.

The decision isn’t etched in stone just yet, Copeland said, but if it can save the city money, then the course of action needs to be investigated. The city has solicited proposals from waste disposal vendors about the garbage pickup, and in February, a committee composed of Alderman Triand “Tron” McCoy and Alderwoman Maureen “Mo” Saunders will make its recommendation to the entire board of aldermen.

“This is not a jump-up, hasty decision, this is something we have looked at for the last several years,” Copeland said.

“The cost of operating trucks, (employee) hospitalization and retirement has escalated through the years. We are looking at every department and making sure those departments pay for themselves, and this is one of those that is not.”

New garbage trucks cost $150,000 apiece, and Copeland said employee salaries have almost doubled in the last 10 years.

The sanitation department currently has eight employees, and the mayor said that if the privatization happens, it will impact six or seven of those employees.

“The companies we have talked to have all agreed to sit down and talk to our employees about keeping them on,” Copeland said. “And we may have to keep some (employees) ourselves.”

While the board will consider the proposals, that doesn’t mean that the privatization will happen.

“We may decide to keep (garbage collection) and just raise the rates a little,” Copeland said.

Currently, private residences are charged $15.50 monthly for garbage pickup.

The smallest commercial accounts are charged $26 a month.

If the garbage collection is contracted out, Copeland said the proposals would have specifications included that would keep the service Vidalia residents have come to expect.

“In the privatization, we are going to continue to try to give the same service we give now,” Copeland said. “We are still going to pick up the limbs and the leaves in bags.

“Some people are concerned about backdoor pickup — we will continue to have that for senior citizens and those who are disabled.

“I am a stickler on making sure (the garbage) is picked up and picked up on time twice a week in the residential areas.”

Some of Vidalia’s commercial businesses are already working with private companies to remove their waste, Copeland said.

Vidalia’s 25-year contract with Waste Management for landfill services will also end in September 2013, and the mayor said the city will also examine proposals for that service to determine if money can be saved in that area as well.

 

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