Talking trash…again

Published 7:40 am Tuesday, September 23, 2014

WINDSOR – It’s back.

Bertie County residents hadn’t heard much about county-wide curbside solid waste and recycling pick-up in the past 11 months as other pressing issues have forced the subject into the background.

It wasn’t really supposed to come to light when the Commissioners held their first monthly meeting Sept. 8 until another aspect of the county’s trash disposal became a topic of discussion.

During commissioner’s comments, Commissioner Rick Harrell broached the subject of an extension by Waste Industries of their contract with the county for maintaining the various trash collection sites.

“I’ve been looking over some of the reports that County Manager (Scott) Sauer has sent out and I noticed that we’ve received a recent correspondence from Waste Industries talking about the potential extension of the contract for the convenience centers to a five-six year contract,” Harrell began.  “I would like the public to be able to weigh in on that to see where we stand on that.”

Harrell then asked if he was in a position to call for a public hearing on that since there was no cost increase associated with the extension other than an inflation cost.  Harrell said he was pretty impressed with that.

“It’s the same price we’re paying right now,” said board chairman J. Wallace Perry.

Sauer related to the board that the current convenience sites agreement does have a consumer price adjustment and Commissioner John Trent said there has been a $39,000 increase to cover that cost within the new budget.  Harrell said that increase was not mandated by Waste Industries.

“I’d like to have a public hearing to bring it in and talk and see the public’s input on adopting and increasing that contract for six years,” Harrell asked.

Commissioner Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson noted the current convenience sites contract expires at the end of this year, coinciding with the election of a new Board of Commissioners.

“Why would we not leave it to the new board to make that decision,” Wesson asked.

“Because I’m not on that new board, Commissioner,” Harrell interjected.

Harrell, Perry, and Charles Smith’s terms will expire at the end of November.

Things then got a little heated between the two.

Wesson sought to re-state his comment, saying he may have been misunderstood; and he wondered aloud if Harrell was making the request for a public hearing because of Harrell’s lame-duck status as a commissioner.

“I’ve been a commissioner for 16 years,” said Harrell, his voice rising. “If I decide that I want to call for a public hearing then I’m doing it because I believe it’s in the best interest of the people of the county.”

“My question is why would we not leave it (the decision) to the new board,” Wesson inquired.

“I just told you,” said Harrell. “I’m not on the new board.”

Harrell then made a motion calling for a public hearing on the proposed convenience sites contract extension, and it was seconded by Smith.

Perry then called for a vote on the motion with he, Harrell and Smith voting in favor of the hearing while Wesson and Trent voted no.

“I want to say something and I’ve said it before,” Smith declared. “I’m thinking about the poor people of this county. We’ve got a lot of poor people in this county and you can believe it or not: if we go through with this (trash) pick-up it’s going to be an extra charge on the poor people – really an extra charge on everyone, and it’s going to hurt.”

“You that have it, you don’t care because you can pay what you want to pay,” Smith continued. “But if you don’t have it, and most of the people in this county don’t have it, then they’re going to suffer.”

Smith went on to support his call for a public hearing.

“Take it as I said it, or leave it if you want to, but we’re going to have that public hearing,” Smith concluded.

Since the subject was now on the open floor, Wesson responded with a comment to Smith’s claim.

“I believe the logic is incorrect,” he began. “I believe the county door-to-door pick-up will save citizens money in this county, and we presented the documents to be able to show it.  Because it costs the average citizen – the average citizen – more to take their garbage to one of the drop-off centers than it would cost for door-to-door pick-up.”

The commissioners then each tried to make their individual case for the centers versus door-to-door pick-up.

“Maybe we should have the public hearing, and I’m glad we are, but we need to make sure we’re telling the citizens what’s accurate,” said Wesson.

“I trust the public,” said Harrell. “I think if the information is presented accurately to them then they’re going to come out and voice their opinion on it.  I assume what the will of the people is by talking to the people.”

“If we’ve talked to the citizens then we’re empowered by them to make the vote,” countered Wesson. “So why do we need a public hearing?”

“When we had the public hearing the majority of the citizens were not in favor of curbside trash pickup,” said Perry. “The others had a chance to be there, right?”

The commissioners seemed as divided as their vote on holding a public hearing.

“Set us a date, Mr. County Manager,” intoned Perry.

While they briefly awaited his decision, the chairman asked each commissioner if they had any further public comment.

“It’s all been said,” said Trent and Smith.

The topic ended on a comic note: the date selected was Oct. 16 at 7 p.m., and as with the 2013 public hearing, it will be held in the Bertie County Courthouse Courtroom-2.  That date is also Perry’s birthday.

“The 16th it is,” Harrell said smiling. “Happy Birthday.”

“Are you going to bring my present,” Perry asked, also with a smile.

“Don’t you worry,” Harrell replied. “We’ll celebrate it after the public hearing.”