Natchez owes funds to Waste Pro for underpayments

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Editor’s note: The following story has been corrected to explain the City of Natchez owes $126,514 to Waste Pro, which includes approximately $63,000 for underpayment and January’s bill for service. We regret the confusion and are happy to set the record straight.

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez and Waste Pro USA are working to solve a $63,000 problem.

The city apparently owes Waste Pro, the company it contracts with for trash collection and disposal, because the city has been underpaying its monthly payments since July.

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Mayor Butch Brown said Tuesday at the board of aldermen’s finance meeting that the city has been making payments based on the schedule outlined in the former contract it had with Waste Pro and not the current one, which began July 1.

The city awarded Waste Pro a contract for collection and disposal in November 2012. Waste Management, which was also vying for the contract, subsequently sued the city, disputing the contract award.

While the lawsuit was being reviewed by Circuit Court Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson, Waste Pro began service for the city.

The contract was voided, and Johnson ruled the city had to restart the process.

During the second round of requesting proposals from companies, the city elected to include a recycling program and new trashcans, increasing the price of the contract, which was again awarded to Waste Pro.

But when the new contract began, increased monthly payments were not made.

City Clerk Donnie Holloway said after Tuesday’s meeting that Waste Pro did not invoice the city for the new amount, so the automated payment set up in the city’s accounting software each month never changed.

Waste Pro Division Manager Doug Atkins said he was checking into the invoice situation but could not verify that Tuesday afternoon.

Atkins said he calculated the city owes $126,514, which includes approximately $63,112 for underpayment and January’s bill for service.

Waste Pro discovered two or three months ago, Atkins said, that the city had not been paying the proper amount. The discovery came after the company established a Miss-Lou Division and increased personnel.

“Now that the spotlight has been shined on our division, everything got a pencil put to it closer than it was before,” he said.

During the establishment of the new division and personnel changes, the once-a-year franchise fee Waste Pro pays the city also fell through the cracks, Atkins said.

The fee is an established percentage of the company’s commercial service revenues, which equates to approximately $4,100.

Brown suggested at the meeting the city take that fee and apply it toward what the city owes Waste Pro.

The city and Waste Pro are also working toward establishing a final house count of the residences receiving trash service.

After a physical count of houses, Atkins said Waste Pro calculates it is serving approximately 6,448 residences. Natchez Water Works Superintendent and City Engineer David Gardner said that figure is higher than the number of residences being billed for services by Natchez Water Works.

Atkins said the two entities are a couple of days away from nailing down a final number of residences.

The number is complicated, Gardner said, because some businesses in the downtown area receive residential pickup service.

Gardner has proposed changes to the city code that would address commercial trash collection, and Brown said after the meeting the board will take up that matter, as well as proposed hikes in water rates, as soon as a work session can be scheduled.

The board, Brown said, would like to address the recently proposed split between the engineering department and Water Works before water rates are addressed.

In other news from the meeting:

-The board approved a rezoning request from DRAYCO Exploration to rezone 5.3 acres in the area of 76 Cooper Street, which is an extension of Learned’s Mill Road, to allow oil drilling.

The well was approved by the planning and preservation commissions in December.

DRAYCO also has on oil well active on Cemetery Road that the city approved in late 2011.

The proposed location of the drilling was reviewed by the preservation commission because it is within 300 feet of Magnolia Vale, a Mississippi landmark.

City Planner Frankie Legaux said nearby residents have made no objections to the well.

-Former information technology director Eric Junkin, who was fired in April, appeared before the board to request payment of salary and benefits owed to him.

Junkin said he was escorted from City Hall April 23 by Police Chief Danny White but was not given a reason for his removal. The board of aldermen voted to approve his termination on April 28, Junkin said, and he wants payment for the five days between his removal and the vote.

Brown said the board would take Junkin’s request under advisement and contact him at a later date.

-The board met for approximately 30 minutes in executive session before its regular meeting to discuss six items concerning lawsuits in which the city is currently involved and matters that could result in litigation.

-Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard voiced ongoing concerns about the city’s financial reports as well as what he believes are errors in the dockets and budget reports City Clerk Donnie Holloway presents to the board of aldermen.

Dillard points out what he says are inaccuracies in the city’s financial reporting and presses for answers for what he has called “misleading and false” reports consistently at aldermen meetings.

Brown said Dillard should meet with Holloway at the clerk’s office, where he can access records and answer questions, rather than “be audited” at a public meeting.

-The board recognized City Surveyor Tony Moon as employee of the month.

-The board rescheduled its Jan. 28 meeting for Feb. 4 because several city officials will be out of town for a Mississippi Municipal League conference.

The finance meeting will begin at 4:30 p.m. and the regular meeting at 6 p.m. in the Natchez City Council Chambers.