Parish head says service runs at deficit
Iberville Parish resident Morticia Pierce believes Plaquemine will become a “trashy town” because of Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso’s recent decision to reduce parishwide trash collection service from twice weekly to once weekly.
The change is scheduled to take effect Aug. 1.
Ourso informed the Parish Council he decided to scale back services because the parish’s Solid Waste Fund is facing a deficit due to rising costs related to trash service.
The parish pays Progressive Waste Solutions $265,000 a month for trash and waste collection, officials said, but the parish collects only $210,000 to $220,000 monthly in sales taxes revenue.
Ourso has said revenue feeding into the fund is generated through tax revenues the parish government shares with parish municipalities, the Fire Department and the School Board. The parish has reached the upper limit in the amount of sales tax revenue it put into the fund, he said.
But Pierce, a community activist who led a protest against Plaquemine’s high utility bills in 2008, said she’s not buying into Ourso’s explanations and believes the parish has more than enough money to maintain its current garbage and trash collection schedules.
“The reason they’re saying we’re going to once a week pick up is because of gas and maintenance,” she said. “Gas is going down. And if they would buy new trucks, they wouldn’t have to spend money on maintenance.”
Brian Willis, Iberville’s director of solid waste, said the parish owns one boom truck kept on call to pick up residential vegetation and sheared tree limbs with its crane.
Willis said the parish spent about $265,000 in 2006 to purchase the boom truck.
Willis didn’t have annual maintenance figures for the truck’s repairs on Friday, but said the parish’s boom truck has logged more than 260,000 miles since it was purchased.
Progressive Waste Solutions uses its own garbage trucks and two boom trucks to handle trash and refuse pickup, Willis said.
Willis said the strain on the waste fund is related to rising costs for tipping fees at landfills. The parish pays about $31 per ton in tipping fees, he said.
Pierce said she has a huge problem with Ourso’s decision to scale back collection services because he didn’t consult the council before making it.
She also questions if the parish president has the authority to amend Iberville’s contract with Progressive without the council’s approval.
Parish officials have confirmed Iberville officials signed the contract with Progressive in December 2011.
Councilman Salaris Butler shares in Pierce’s concerns.
Butler was one of the most outspoken council members against the trash pickup cutback when Ourso announced it at the June 19 meeting.
“I’m trying to find out what authority he is using to renew and cut services in the contract without the authority of the council,” Butler said. “There would have to be another contract signed. I don’t see how he could do that without the authorization of the council.”
Butler said he doesn’t understand Ourso’s urgency to switch to once weekly collection routes.
Even though the parish is in a “break even” state regarding the Solid Waste Fund, Butler believes officials can wait until the end of the year to make any decisions.
“We got a lot of things we can look at besides cutting services,” Butler said. “In the past, when we felt tax revenues were not keeping up with solid waste costs, we found ways to cut things in the budget instead of cutting services.”
Butler said he already has placed the issue on the council’s July 24 meeting agenda so parish residents can have a chance to voice their concerns, too.
Council Chairman Matt Jewell said he has “mixed emotions” about the changes suggested by Ourso.
Jewell said the parish has spent a lot of money and effort in getting Iberville’s garbage and litter situation under control.
Siding with Pierce and Butler, Jewell said he hopes the once weekly collections don’t lead to more debris and trash being dumped along parish roads.
“Only time will tell,” Jewell said. “But on the other hand, we can’t wait until the fund is broke to try and fix it. It is what it is. The costs have been escalating and getting out of hand. The figures don’t lie.”
Willis said most residents he has spoken with on the issue understand Ourso’s decision and said they’d rather the cutback in services instead of an increase in taxes.
Iberville Parish residents are not charged for trash service, unlike residents of many other parishes, Willis said.
Letters informing parish residents about the change already have been mailed out, officials said.
St. Gabriel Mayor Lionel Johnson, who attended the June 19 council meeting, said last week he will be sending a newsletter to residents of his city addressing the issue.
Johnson said, so far, he hasn’t received any feedback from St. Gabriel residents, but hopes they are aware of the Aug. 1 change, since it would force them to adjust their household trash flow.
Johnson said he intends to review his city’s budget as well to determine whether St. Gabriel could possibly absorb some of the parish’s costs for the trash service to maintain the current twice-a-week schedule for his residents.
“I need to sit down and see what that figure would be and if I can afford it,” Johnson said.
White Castle Mayor Gerald Jermarr Williams said his city’s officials intend to meet with Ourso soon to determine how White Castle intends to approach the matter.
“We want to see what is a possible solution for going back to twice a week,” Williams said.