Supervisors move to increase county garbage fees to $35 per household following public hearing

Published 3:33 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2023

NATCHEZ — A standing-room only crowd of about 50 people packed the meeting room of the Adams County Board of Supervisors Wednesday morning for a public hearing on plans to more than double garbage collection fees for county residents.

Those attending the hearing, which were mostly senior citizens, asked how they were expected to afford an increase from $15 to $35 when living on a fixed income.

On March 6, in a three-to-two vote, supervisors approved a contract with United Infrastructure Services for $26.66 per month per residence in the county for garbage collection. That six-year contract includes an automatic annual cost increase of almost five percent per year.

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Supervisors Warren Gaines, Angela Hutchins and Ricky Gray voted in favor of the contract. Supervisors Kevin Wilson and Wes Middleton opposed it.

Since that time, Wilson has been a vocal opponent of the new deal, saying supervisors should have considered a much less expensive contract from Arrow Disposal Services for once-a-week pickup for $17 per household per week, which would have included a 95-gallon garbage container to each residence at no additional cost. He has also been critical of Metro Services and now its predecessor United Infrastructure’s equipment and performance of services.

United Infrastructure Services is a new company formed by the same people who owned and operated the now bankrupt Metro Services. Metro Services gained the county’s business in 2018 when it bid a rate of $10.25 per household for garbage collection.

After the post-COVID inflation hit, officials at Metro in the summer of 2022 approached the supervisors to renegotiate its contract. However, supervisors refused.

Metro filed for bankruptcy in October 2022 and asked a judge to get out of its contracts in Natchez and Jonesville, Louisiana. The judge granted that request.

The county was left without a garbage collector beginning in December 2022, but Metro agreed to step in on a temporary, 90-day basis for $19 per household, which the county approved.

Board of Supervisors President Warren Gaines said supervisors put Metro in a difficult situation when it refused to negotiate a new contract when it was asked to do so in 2022.

Many of those at the hearing echoed the sentiments of Gillis Bland of 200 Traceway Drive, who said he could not afford the proposed increase in garbage collection fees.

“I am 76 years old, am retired and living on a fixed income. In the last six year, I have received a total increase in Social Security of $332. It took me six years to get that and now y’all are taking $204 of it in one year,” Bland said. “Angela Hutchins said people want twice a week pickup. Nobody asked me. You said I can’t adapt to one day a week garbage pick up. But you want me to adapt to you taking more money than I have to give.”

Wilson, who represents District 2, said he was against the new contract with United Infrastructure from “day one…We did not negotiate the contract. We did not consider once a week pickup. Every suggestion I made was ‘No. No. No, that can’t happen.’ Everybody knows how to adapt, especially when someone is raising money for your garbage pickup.”

Middleton, who represents District 1, said he, too, was against the contract with United Infrastructure.

“No homework was done. I still hear from people daily who are in favor of once a week pickup. I definitely think the community could have adapted,” Middleton said.

Gaines said no other company was willing to help the county during the time it needed a temporary pickup contractor other than Metro Services.

“This board right here held those folks to $10 until they went out of business. When we held those folks (to the terms of their original contract) and they went out of business, they were the only one who came up and helped us out temporarily,” Gaines said.

Wilson said no other company bid on the temporary contract because none could afford to staff up and buy new equipment for only 90 days worth of work.

Other residents at the hearing wanted to know if any other options were explored in an effort to avoid such a drastic fee increase. Others voiced their displeasure with the supervisors in general, criticizing the recent tax increase approved by supervisors.

Henry Watts, who is a former Adams County Supervisor, said he was “amazed” at the contract.

“I don’t want to offend anyone, but I guess I will. It ranks about three I’ve seen in Adams County — the purchase of IP, the sale of the hospital and this one. We are here now. We are under contract. In it is a 30 percent increase in rates. Five percent a year for six years…Are we going to have another rate increase every year to cover these additional increases in the contract?” Watts asked.

County Attorney Scott Slover said the public hearing would be for this initial rate increase only and any other increases would remain to be seen.

Gray, who represents District 4, said he voted in favor of the contract. He lectured those attending the public hearing on how to be good Christians.

“This is the worst negotiation I ever seen in my life and I’m going to tell you why. We as people have got to learn how to treat each other. When we had them at $10, we had a rope around their neck. It was good for the board of supervisors, but when it was time to renegotiate before the contract was over, like Supervisor Gaines said, we refused to do it,” Gray said.

He said inflation has affected every part of county government expenses.

“We have a project on Morgantown Road that started at $1.2 million, went to $3.2 million and now is at $6-something million…Insurance is out of control, just like garbage, and PERS went up,” he said. “Everything is about timing. If we had brought those people in and negotiated the $10 up to $18 or $19, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this now.”

He said the contract has caused public, personal attacks.

“That ain’t God-like. Everybody calls themselves Christians. You need to ask yourself when you are dealing with people, what would God do? Would he publicly attack people…I don’t know if they got attacked because they were the first African American company to get a garbage contract in the State of Mississippi or what. I don’t know, but it happens,” Gray said.

Hutchins, who represents District 3, said she was in favor of twice-a-week garbage collection and remains so. She read a text she received from one of her constituents, in which the constituent said she was willing to pay an increased fee to keep twice-a-week garbage collection and to not be forced to use a heavy, 95 gallon container, which the constituent said she would be unable to carry to the end of her long driveway.

“Let me say this, I sit here and listen to everyone talk, but a few years ago, there was one-day pickup. I saw what happened,” she said. “You all want to come in here and beat us down for a service we have got to have. We have got to adapt to changes. You say you can adapt to one day a week. OK, let’s adapt to this $35.”

After the close of the public meeting, supervisors hastily voted to approve the garbage collection fee increase to $35 per household in the county. It does not apply to city residents, who pay their garbage collection to the City of Natchez on their water bills.

County Attorney Scott Slover said the increased fee takes effect on Nov. 1.

Following the meeting, Supervisor Wilson received a letter from a law firm representing United Infrastructure Services, telling him to cease and desist with making “false claims” about the company.

“I will continue on until I find out just what false claims they say I have made, because I don’t know what they are,” Wilson said.