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Jonesboro to take over residents' trash pickup

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Jonesboro City Council expressed its intent this week to take over the responsibility of collecting the city's trash starting Jan. 1.

Council members agreed Tuesday to let a five-year contract with Robertson Sanitation - the company presently handling residential trash pickup - expire at the end of this year.

According to Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox, the city's public works department collected the city's trash until 2005, when the city's previous administration decided to privatize the service.

"The people in the city have not been satisfied since the city gave it up to privatize it," Maddox said. "Robertson has been a good company, but the citizens want their own people to do the service."

Maddox said the city will exclusively conduct trash pick-up services starting next year, using a garbage truck it purchased for $125,480 in April of 2007. He said the city has been making yearly payments on the truck since 2007, but has not yet used the truck for garbage pickup.

When payments have been completed on the truck the city already owns, the city intends to buy a second garbage truck to serve as "a spare," Maddox said.

Jonesboro Finance Officer Sandra Meyers said the current balance on the truck is $75,314, and that it should be paid for by November of 2011.

According to its web site, Robertson Sanitation is a private company that has operated trash and recycling collection services throughout metro Atlanta, Athens, and North Georgia since 1985.

Dennis Hill, the company's general manager, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

During a regular business meeting on Monday, local residents applauded a motion made by the mayor to let the city's exclusive contract with the company "die a natural death." Rather than second the motion, council members voted to delete a discussion item, considering the amendment of the Robertson Sanitation contract.

Some citizens expressed their desire for the city to retake control of sanitation services on Monday. "I am opposed to anything that benefits Robertson Sanitation, because I don't believe they are providing the services to the citizens that they agreed to do," said Jon Crane, a private contractor and Jonesboro resident.

"When the city had done it in the past, if you had somebody who was elderly, and they had trouble putting the trash cans out, they didn't ask you to put your trash on the curb, they went back there and got it. We had a lot less crime when the city was doing it back then, because they were a another set of eyes. That's one-on-one service that you don't get with a large company."

"I've observed for the past week that they [Robertson Sanitation] have not picked up these grass clippings," said Larry Boak, a Jonesboro resident. "They are just sitting out there on the street getting wet in the bags."

Councilman Bobby Wiggins spoke out against the idea of the city retaking control of sanitation services. He believes the service, which costs Jonesboro trash customers about $45 quarterly, could be even cheaper if the service continued to be privatized.

"We're going to have to start collecting and billing, and I think we are asking for more problems," Wiggins said. "I hate to see the city services go, but I think they're gone, and I think our best deal is to continue how we are going with the cheapest contractor."

Councilman Clarence Mann served as a member of a committee charged with researching the possibility of the city retaking control of sanitation services. He said the council is answering the concerns of Jonesboro residents upset by a major liquidation of in-house services that took place in 2005.

"It was kind of a big controversy when I first ran for council," Mann said. "It happened around when the volunteer fire department was disbanded. The garbage service by the city had been outsourced and that got the citizens upset.

"It seems like the citizens feel like the more we can do for ourselves, by ourselves, the better we are," Mann continued. "They trust people they know doing the service, rather than somebody from outside coming in. It's just always kind of been that way."

Mann said Robertson Sanitation currently picks up trash from about 725 receptacles in the city of Jonesboro. He said the city will continue to charge the same prices as Robertson Sanitation, in order to pay the upfront cost of buying an additional 100 receptacles, plus the receptacles the company currently owns.

"Once we get that settled, we may even be able to reduce that price for the citizens," Mann added. Wiggins believes the economies of scale dictate otherwise.

"I think we could have had it cheaper," Wiggins said. "I personally haven't heard many complaints about Robertson Sanitation. I think it's just some campaign promises that people are trying to keep."