By Ed Brock
After an hour of heated discussion, a crowd of Forest Park residents indicated by straw poll that they would pay more to keep the city in the garbage collection business.
The crowd filled the municipal courtroom at the Forest Park police headquarters Friday night for the first of three public hearings on the city's plan to contract with Waste Management for its garbage and trash collection. Forest Park Director of Public Works Mike Gippert had barely begun his presentation on the subject before members of the audience began making negative comments.
In the presentation, Gippert was to tell the audience that the city is losing money on the sanitation business. If the city continues to provide the service, they would have to increase fees from $180 a year to $240 annually, Gippert said, and they would have to change the process for collecting yard waste, such as limbs and leaves.
Under the contract with Waste Management the price and service would stay the same, Gippert said. The city would have two supervisors overseeing the company's work and taking complaints from the residents, and there would be benefits, such as more free pickup for bulk items and a $10,000 annual grant that the city could use for any purpose.
Gippert's mention that residents would continue to pay the same $15 a month rate for at least the first three years of the contract seemed to cause doubt for 70-year-old Robert Tomlin.
"Is that firm? Not after three months are they going to raise it?" Tomlin asked.
Donald Mulky, 60, called into question the service that Waste Management would provide.
"You do not have the same garbage man every dayé they don't care what they pick up," Mulky said.
Tomlin also asked Gippert why Waste Management could provide the service at the same cost and the city couldn't.
"Because of the fact that we do not own our own landfill," Gippert responded.
Ken Houseworth, 70, told Gippert it sounded like the city had already made up its mind, but Gippert said the plan was just a proposal.
At one point, Corine Deyton, former city councilwoman, stood up to protest the plan.
"I don't mind losing money if we can provide a good service to the people," Deyton said. "That's what the city is all about."
Deyton also mentioned that Waste Management trucks are already going in and out of the company's transfer station near Lamar Drive at all times of the day and night, disturbing the residents of the "Rose Town" area.
"We have to take a little loss when we're a municipality," Deyton said. "I'm not in favor of this at all."
Also, Deyton said the city should look at cutting corners elsewhere. Resident and former council member John Buckholts suggested cutting pickups to once a week during the winter, as it was before.
"If it continues to be a problem, we may have to go to privatization," Buckholts said.
Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall stood up to say that the city could be losing up to $800,000 from the county's Local Option Sales Tax due to legislation exempting Delta Air Lines from parts of the tax.
"Where do we make up that kind of revenue?" Hall asked Deyton and the crowd. "We have some financial situations we have to deal with."
One member of the audience did stand up in support of the plan. Bob Hardy, a resident of Jonesboro who owns a company called Uniway on Old Dixie Highway in Forest Park, said Waste Management would provide equal service for less.
"I don't want the mayor and council raising my fees because they're losing money on sanitation," Hardy said.
After the meeting, Hall said he gathered that the crowd was willing to pay more to keep the city's sanitation service.
"If that's the consensus (after the remaining two public meetings) where they want to go, that's an issue we have to look at," Hall said.
The city council would then have to consider an ordinance that would increase the rates, Hall added.
The second meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at the police headquarters, 320 Cash Memorial Drive, and the last meeting will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at the same location. Residents can express their opinion on the subject by calling city hall at (404) 366-4720 and asking to speak with Hall or Gippert.