Garbage issue resurfaces in Ascension

GONZALES - Ascension Parish officials have yet to decide what steps to take in their effort to provide parishwide garbage service, but that could change Tuesday.

The full Ascension Parish Council is scheduled to consider the matter at its Tuesday meeting.

Parish residents currently have no mandatory curbside garbage pickup, instead having the option of contracting with one of several companies to provide the service. Public officials have been discussing for years - and working in earnest for the past nine months - to devise a plan that would raise the standards in the future.

But, to date, standards have yet to be agreed upon - such as whether the service should be parishwide and whether it should be an exclusive contract that gives all of the business to one company.

Those questions again came up at the parish’s most recent Strategic Planning Committee meeting last week, where council members, administration officials and residents discussed the garbage issue for nearly two hours.

Last summer, the Parish Council elected to enforce stricter guidelines covering garbage companies doing business in the parish. The council authorized the administration to write a new vendor contract for those services, which include weekly or biweekly garbage pickup, weekly recycling pickup, and monthly small brush, bulky waste and white goods removal. Those services, the council said, were not to be mandatory or exclusive to one company.

Nine months later, however, some council members claim the savings they expected are not materializing. The council’s Strategic Planning Committee tasked the administration with gathering expected non-exclusive costs from existing vendors as well as exclusive rights deals that neighboring parishes have struck recently.

Councilwoman Teri Casso, who again brought up the idea that parish officials look at locking in an exclusive contract, said it was time to stop talking and make some tough decisions.

“It’s well understood that ... bidding is what brings the price down,” Casso said. “And exclusivity is key to that.”

Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee said that since the full council originally voted to pursue non-exclusive agreements, the committee couldn’t overrule that decision. He also said parish officials have “bigger fish to fry.” He said other priorities should include addressing juvenile detention concerns, animal control, recreation and creating a parishwide sewer system.

“Do we need, as the parish, to be in the garbage business?” Satterlee asked. “I think we need to be in the sewage business, schools, police protection. But I’m not sure - in fact, I’m pretty certain - that we don’t need to be in the garbage business.”

Several residents agreed with him, as most people who have attended council meetings about the topic have spoken out against a parishwide system.

“Why have you made garbage service a priority when it’s not needed?” asked Kathryn Goppelt, a conservative community activist and former parish president candidate. “You want to cram something down our throat, and we don’t want it.”

Parish Council Chairman Chris Loar, however, said that while opponents of the plan say that garbage pickup in the parish isn’t broken, he believes there are problems. Illegal dumping - at commercial locations, in parish drainage canals, on roads - occurs all over the parish, he said, and people are illegally burning their trash and garbage because they don’t feel they have better options.

Loar said curbside pickup of trash and garbage, as well as recycling opportunities, are “basic services” that should be provided to parish residents. A resident who wants to contract with a company for garbage pickup and with a separate recycling company has to pay more than $35 per month, said Loar.

“I think we can do better than that,” said Kent Schexnaydre, chairman of the council’s Strategic Planning Committee.

“The status quo is just not acceptable because there are needs and we can do better,” Loar added.