By Ed Brock
The Forest Park City Council voted to privatize its sanitation services despite opposition up to the last minute from some citizens.
In a special called meeting Friday morning the council voted 3 to 2 in support of the contract that will allow Waste Management to take over garbage, trash and yard waste pickup for the city. Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall and Public Works Director Mike Gippert have said that the city is losing money by providing the service.
The new service is expected to begin May 1.
A number of citizens attended three public hearings on the proposed contract with Waste Management. Former City Councilwoman Corine Deyton attended those meetings and the meeting Friday morning at which the contract was approved, and at each one she spoke against the contract.
"An overwhelming majority of the citizens that were there let you know that they did not want this to happen," Deyton told Mayor Chuck Hall.
In a straw poll taken at the first two meetings a majority of attendees did vote that they would prefer that the city keep its service, even if it meant their fees would go up. At the last meeting there was no straw poll and more supporters of the contract.
Deyton went on to call for City Manager Bill Werner to be replaced and reminded Hall that this is an election year.
"You must start representing these citizens or get out," Deyton said. "And you know you have the option of resigning if you can't handle the situation."
During the Friday meeting Councilwoman Debbie Youmans read a statement in which she accused other member's of the city's governing body of accepting favors from Waste Management.
"I understand that Waste Management has taken members of the governing body to the (NASCAR) race to their private seats which are quite expensive," Youmans said. "I understand those races are this weekend in Hampton. Is that why a special called meeting is taking place, so this can be a done-deal so members can attend these races."
Deyton also mentioned that Hall, who did not vote in the decision on the contract, had received campaign contributions from Waste Management.
Hall denied going to any races with Waste Management personnel but did say former County Commissioner Gerald Matthews, who works for Waste Management, did make a personal contribution of $100 to his last campaign.
Matthews, who attended Friday's meeting, said Youman's accusations were "out of line and false."
Former Forest Park City Councilman John Buckholts questioned why the council would call a meeting to vote on the contract rather than wait until the regular council meeting on Monday.
"It should be done at a regular council meeting before the people," Buckholts said.
Zonnie and Doris Jones, residents of Lamar Drive, addressed the council on another complaint that was voiced at the public meetings regarding the conditions around the Waste Management transfer station on their road.
"The families over there are suffering from the noise and the smell," Zonnie Jones said. "What are you going to do for Lamar Drive."
The noise from the trucks is louder than the airplanes that fly low over the city on their way to and from nearby Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Zonnie Jones said. Hall said Waste Management has a right to use the roads to get to their business and said his house is also near the transfer station.
"No, you don't get the trucks, Mr. Mayor," Doris Jones said. "The trucks come on our street."
According to Gippert if the city were to continue to provide the service they would have to increase fees from $180 a year to $240 annually 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 will stay the same, Gippert said. The city will have two supervisors overseeing the company's work and taking complaints from the residents, and there will be other benefits, such as more free pickup for bulk items and a $10,000 annual grant that the city could use for any purpose.
Residents are to continue to pay the same $15 a month rate for at least the first three years of the contract, Gippert said. They will be required to put leaves in paper bags and to bundle their tree limbs, but Waste Management will pick up 15 of those bags a week.
They will also pick up five "bulk" items, such as furniture and mattresses, a week for free and a nominal fee for the remaining items if there are more than five.
The city plans to absorb 21 of the 27 employees currently involved in the garbage pickup and the six remaining employees could go to work for Waste Management.
Most other cities in the area contract with private companies for garbage pickup, Gippert said previously.