Cities Pinched by Rising Garbage Pickup Costs

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Unincorporated Jefferson County is not the only area that will likely feel the effects of rising waste management expenses.

Likely to also feel the pinch are cities in the Cahaba Solid Waste Disposal Authority, a consortium that handles garbage collection for its seven member cities and one other that contracts with it.

Hoover is a member of the authority. Hoover City Administrator Allan Rice said a meeting of the waste authority board is in the works to hear from AmWaste, which manages waste disposal for the authority.

“What they’re telling me is they’re going to request basically like a fuel surcharge,” Rice said. “Not a permanent change to the contract but an addendum that would allow them to charge an additional fee, which will be tied to fuel prices so that as prices escalate, it goes up. And as prices fall – if they ever fall – it goes back down.

“That’s probably as reasonable as we can ask them to be,” he said, acknowledging that he is just one member of the board. “Everybody and their brother knows what’s going on with fuel prices. We’re all feeling it individually. All cities and counties are feeling it. And of course, our service providers like AmWaste (and) every other industry is feeling it as well.”

Last week, the Jefferson County Commission approved an emergency contract amendment with AmWaste. The amendment allows the company to establish its rates for serving residents of unincorporated Jefferson County based on fuel costs, which are based on the Alabama Department of Transportation fuel index, and the consumer price index.

Rice said AmWaste’s response to the rise in fuel costs is rational, saying that the company is not completely renegotiating its contract based on these current fuel prices.

“What they are saying is, ‘Hey, guys, if we’re going to keep the trucks running, we’re gonna need some help on fuel costs to be able to provide this service for the time being,’” the Hoover city administrator said. “’Let’s tie it to the fuel market and as conditions change, we’ll change with them.’”

Residents of unincorporated Jefferson County are directly affected by the rate adjustment as they pay a quarterly fee for the service. Residents of authority-member cities may or may not, depending on how that city handles waste management.

Residents of Hoover, for instance, do not pay for garbage pickup individually. That cost is factored into Hoover’s general fund budget. Other cities pass the expense to their residents.

“Of course, (Hoover) residents are paying for it, and visitors are paying for it, through all the taxes that are collected,” Rice said. “There would be no direct impact to a resident’s pocketbook in Hoover because we don’t charge them a fee anyway. But there will be indirect impact in that we’ll have to transfer money from other places in the budget to pay the additional fuel costs.”

Other than Hoover, the authority’s member cities are Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, Homewood, Trussville, Pelham and Clanton, and Fultondale contracts with the authority.

Hoover, like other governments, already is having to balance the rise in fuel costs with providing services.

“We’re working through the budget to identify money that can be transferred so that we can keep police cars on patrol, fire trucks, Public Works dump trucks, and all the services you have to provide,” Rice said. “We were already doing that for other city operations. This is just the iteration of the garbage portion of that.”

The city administrator recalled a similar situation two years ago when fuel prices surged a bit. All department heads were asked to look through their priorities and find all the funds they could identify to transfer to fuel.

Rice does not know how belt-tightening will manifest itself if an anticipated AmWaste rate increase comes about.

“I don’t have a grocery list of, ‘Hey, we’re not going to do this. We’re not going to do that,’ because that analysis is going on right now,” he said. “Obviously, the priority is on critical public safety. Trash has to get off the street and go to the landfill one way or the other. Somebody’s got to do it.

“There’ll be some things that we either curtail, hold off on or defer for the future while we pay our gas bill,” Rice said. “Hopefully, we will see the market return and the budget will go back to looking like what it was intended in the beginning.”