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Solid waste issues dominate Commission meeting

Solid waste issues dominated the Pike County Commission's Monday night meeting as the county prepares for the expiration of the current contract with Mark Dunning Industries on March 31. Although no official action was taken with regards to the controversial issue, the commissioners were given a request for proposals by county attorney Alan Jones which they unanimously approved and will send out to bidders today.

The RFP for the solid waste pickup offers bidders several options. The county allows companies to decide whether they want to bill and collect fees for the solid waste accounts or leave that process to the county. Also, the RFP allows the companies to decide whether or not they would allow Pike County residents to leave two extra bags out by the curb in addition to the county-provided container.

All commissioners were present at the meeting and all endorsed the RFP as proposed by Jones. The commissioners will begin to consider bids and make a decision by March on which company to prefer.

Commissioner Charlie Harris expressed concern that fully privatizing the solid waste collection and billing could leave Pike County residents vulnerable to the whims of the market.

"My people are not going to accept $25 a month for solid waste fees," he said. "I know you might see some counties where it's $42 a month, but if we did that, these people would run us out of here."

The other significant solid waste move of the night occurred when the commissioners voted unanimously to move $60,000 from the solid waste fund to the general fund in order to help pay off some of the losses that the county is incurring due to the consistent failure of numerous Pike County residents to pay their solid waste bills.

Though the county is required by state law to pick up solid waste from each and every resident, the commissioners have struggled with enforcement mechanisms to get people to pay their bills. According to solid waste officer Sam Green, the county is losing $200,000 per year due to deadbeat solid waste customers.

Recently, the county has moved to file civil lawsuits against customers who refuse to pay the $10 a month fee, but the suits have been held up as Jones attempts to target those residents most able to pay. He said he'd rather not target the poorest people in the county first, but hopes to call attention to those customers who are able to pay but simply refuse to do so.

"We're modifying the list," he said. "Before we started this campaign, there were seven or eight people we were talking to, but it was low profile. Now, hopefully, we'll get a mass filing of suits within the next week."

In other business, the commissioners discussed the sales tax for education, noting that a choice is coming up about whether or not to extend the tax for additional years. Previously passed for only one year, the commissioners discussed whether or not to ask for an amended tax in an election, whereby 75 percent of the funds would go to education and 25 percent could become revenue for the county.

"Do you want to split up the sales tax 75-25, or do you want to do away with it," Jones asked the commissioners. "It was not intended to be there forever."

The discussion revolved around the proper method for structuring and wording a bill to be proposed in the Alabama Legislature which would allow the county to use part of the sales tax money, pending approval by the county's voters, for means besides education.

"You could try to get a long-term sales tax passed, but you've tried that several times and it hasn't passed," Jones said.