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Lake City Garbage Woes: Will Low Rates and Pickups Continue Uninterrupted?

Related:
Waste Pro / City Trash Saga Heading Down to the Wire:  Roll Offs & Recycling Are the Issue August 23, 2019
Lake City Garbage Woes: Will Low Rates and Pickups Continue Uninterrupted? August 21, 2019
City Residential Garbage On Tap Monday Night: Residential Rates May Be Heading Up – Way Up August 19, 2019

LAKE CITY, FL – Lake City, Florida, has some of the lowest residential garbage pickup rates in Florida. Three of the five City Council members may be putting those rates in jeopardy.

On Monday night, for just over an hour, the City Council thrashed four proposals negotiated with its carter, Waste Pro, by City Manager Joe Helfenberger. The point of contention: In 2014 the City Council, in order to keep the 3,000 residential customer rates down, gave its carter, Waste Pro, an exclusive contract which included all residential garbage pickups and commercial and roll-off containers.

A handful of independent roll off companies, one co-owned by County Commissioner Rocky Ford, balked and came to City Hall to speak against the renewal of the Waste Pro contract if it included roll off containers [the ones which hold construction and demolition debris].

City Manager Helfenberger kicked off the conversation telling the Council, "We had a number of requests from businesses to consider opening up the roll-off container business."

After a brief rundown of different rate scenarios, Mayor Witt opened the microphone for public comments.

Glenel BowdenLong time Lake City resident and community activist, Glenel Bowden, was the first to address the Council. He told the Council he recommended a 3% increase with the contract remaining the same.

After the meeting, Mr. Bowden emailed the Mayor, again expressing his opposition any rate increase over 3%.

Gary "Hambone" Wilson of Wilson containers was next up.

He began, "I'm asking Council to give people a choice of their provider for roll off containers. He said the City is creating a monopoly by giving Waste Pro an exclusive franchise.


Front:  Gary "Hambone" Wilson and his son of Wilson containers. Rear: Robert Sheppard and Rocky Ford of Sheppard's Containers.

"All I'm asking for is freedom of choice." Mr. Wilson said that household garbage pickup had nothing to do with roll-off containers. "It's a matter of free enterprise," he said.

Columbia County Commissioner Rocky Ford addressed the City Council. "My name is Rocky Ford. I'm part owner of Sheppard Containers. I don't think we should be subsidizing garbage pickup for residential service off the backs of business. They already pay enough." Mr. Ford said Waste Pro "creates a monopoly."

Mr. Ford continued, "A business should be able to negotiate a price with whatever business he wants to do business with... Roll off container business should not be part of that bid... Monopolies have been outlawed in this country for a long time... Thank you."

Sylvester WarrenSylvester Warren, community activist and self proclaimed voice of the people was next at the microphone.

Mr. Warren told the Council, "I'm speaking as a resident. I'm not speakin' as a  business person – a capitalist, and I believe in free enterprise... It's my money and God forbid I'm gonna' let another person tell me how to spend my money."

Mr. Warren continued telling the City Council, "I'm gonna' use who I wanna' use... We need to get beyond this Waste Pro only Waste Pro situation."

Mr. Warren opined that there is still room for Waste Pro to lower their residential prices without the roll-off business.

Danny Garbett of First Street Music said that he wanted to be able to choose his garbage collector. He said he was doing business with Gary "Hambone" Wilson and was satisfied. Then he got a letter from the City saying he couldn't do it anymore and if he did he would be charged $200 a day. "It's completely unfair," he said.

Waste Pro: Dayna Miller & Frank Kramer


Waste Pro's Dayna Miller and Frank Kramer answered all questions.

Waste Pro spokesperson Dayna Miller addressed the Council:  "We knew this was going to be a contentious topic; knowing that we worked with the City Council and staff to come up with several options. I do take exception to what was said that Waste Pro may be extorting the city. Waste Pro has been a good community partner for this city for many years... We hire local; buy fuel local; we do our business local and we give back to this community in many different ways... I'm not sure how we ended up being the bad guy in this. The contract that we are serving under was approved by this council."

"We've heard both sides tonight. I feel that Mr. Kramer and I have done everything that we can to accommodate the requests of the staff and the council in providing the different options that you have asked for. We're not perfect – we're human. We quickly and efficiently resolve the issues when there are issues... We are available for questions."

City Councilwoman Melinda Moses said, "The service that we've gotten from you is extremely responsive. I was not made aware of the exclusivity until about a year ago. You and I talked. I have a real problem with that... My question to you is, 'Is there a way to split the baby?"

Mayor Steve Witt
Mayor Steve Witt listens to the folks from Waste Pro.

Waste Pro's Frank Kramer:  "We have to have the same amount of employees no matter what the service... We are four dollars a house lower here than most people are and that's the reason why – because we have all the businesses."

Mr. Kramer explained the options presented to the City: "We got them as cheap as we could."

Ms. Moses asked, "So there is no compromise?"

Mr. Kramer answered, "It's not that there is no compromise. I took it as cheap as I could, already."


Councilman Hill listens.

Ms. Moses said, "What's right is right."

Councilman Jake Hill said, "I've had some problems with Waste Pro in the past.

Councilman Hill wanted to know why the rates had to go up if Waste Pro didn't have an exclusive.

Mr. Kramer answered, "Again, when you go to cities that don't have it, the rates are higher."

Mayor Witt said, "Ok. That's all I have. At this time we'll move to the Council for concerns and conversation."

Eugene JeffersonTwenty one year council veteran Eugene Jefferson said, "I'm in favor of free enterprise... but I am concerned with the citizens. We have people on limited income and cannot afford one dollar or three dollars... someone on medication. It may place those people in jeopardy... My hope was that we open it up to free enterprise with no cost to our citizens."

Mayor Witt asked City Manager Helfenberger if the budget could absorb the loss of the franchise fee.

Mr. Helfenberger said the loss would be $124k. "That's a significant loss," he said.

Sylvester Warren spoke out from the audience. Mayor Witt said he would allow him to come to the microphone and said, "We have to do our job."

Mr. Warren told the Mayor, "OK Mayor. I'm going to let you do your job. But so far the Council has not done their job."

Mr. Warren told the Council, "There is no need to have the rate increase for the citizens and the business people can still use who they want to use."

Mr. Warren did not present any figures to back up his statement.

Then Sandra Smith asked Mayor Witt why they couldn't separate the pull from the residential pickups."

There was no answer.

Rocky Ford revisited the microphone and said Waste Pro was "doing a great job."

He said, "To ask small businesses to subsidize 3000 residential customers – that's a lot of money for small businesses... I think this needs to be thought about a little bit more."

Councilman Hill said, "I'm not going to support the exclusive and I'm not going to support the rate increase for the citizens."

Councilman Greene said some of his constituents are willing to forgo recycling and said Option D would take care of that without a residential rate increase. Option D also left Waste Pro as the sole provider for commercial and demolition waste removal.

Melinda Moses
Councilwoman Melinda Moses

Councilwoman Moses weighed in. "To me, right is right and sometimes you have to pay for freedom. I mean – I don't know. I think the $16.06 [one of the residential rate proposals] is too much and I'd like to see that come down..."

Ms. Moses said she didn't want a rate increase.

Mr. Greene said, "It's too late to go back and open the contract up for bid. We can't go back and do that now."

Ms. Moses said, "I'm not so sure."

City Attorney Koberlein, who was sitting right next to Councilman Greene remained silent. It was not clear if Mr. Koberlein was paying attention, was not prepared, or if it was something else.

Mr. Greene made a motion to "pass option D," which would have lowered residential rates and eliminated recycling. Everything else would stay the same. The motion died for lack of a second.

Councilman Hill made the next motion, "That Mr. Helfenberger go back with Waste Pro and see if they can negotiate something better with the roll off and decrease the citizen."

Ms. Moses seconded the motion.

There was more discussion.

The motion passed 3-2, with Mayor Witt and Councilman Greene against.

Epilogue

At the next City Council meeting 3,000 City residents may find out which way their garbage fees are headed, or, in the worst case, if they will have anyone picking up their garbage after October 1, the day the contract expires.

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