Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sanitation Forum #1

Tonight was the first of three scheduled public forums on the sanitation issue here in Dunwoody. Warren and Council should save everyone the time and hassle of two more forums and cancel them both. The Dunwoody sanitation issue is done - stick a fork in it. After tonight's presentation I cannot see how any council member can go ahead with issuing an RFP on sanitation. Doing so would be a waste of time and money.

I liked tonight's set-up. I congratulate whomever set it up (perhaps Warren?). After hearing opening remarks from City manager Warren and Jeff Timler the audience was treated to six well-informed speakers on the issue.

I was expecting more folks in the audience, but it was rainy and a decent football game was on TV. Only the Lawrence Welk crowd showed up, in addition to the entire council (except Danny Ross) and the mayor. Of course farmer Bob was there as were maybe three other folks under age 65. The Dunwoody elderly folks are still mad about that closing post office so don't mess with them on this trash issue.

DeKalb Sanitation started things off with a presentation from Billy Malone and Ted Reinhart. A Powerpoint display (no popcorn) covered the basics, reminding and educating the audience of DeKalb's umbrella coverage regarding removing waste. DeKalb has been sending trucks out here since the 1940's. Rumor has it the first ever Dunwoody trash pickup was five empty cases of moonshine from the beloved Farmhouse. Seems like even back in the day the Dunwoody folks could throw a party.

DeKalb made many great points. One thing I did not know is they do not collect before 8 AM. I like that. A Waste Management truck used to rumble through our neighborhood around 7 AM - I did not like that.

Next we heard from a representative from the city of Chamblee. Chamblee handles its own trash service. Chamblee has only 12,000 folks and only 900 homes so their situation is unlike Dunwoody. Chamblee has three garbage trucks (costing over $100,000 each). I won't waste time on the Chamblee situation as Dunwoody never was considering starting our own service, but at least we got that option out of the way. It is important to note that Chamblee fees do not cover the costs and the city has to pull several hundred thousand dollars a year from their general fund to subsidize sanitation.

Moving on we heard from Mr. Howe from Doraville. Doraville opted out of county sanitation and went private in 2005. Doraville is much smaller than Dunwoody. Folks in Doraville pay $200 instead of the county rate of $265 but their level of service dropped as well. In the end, Mr Howe advised Dunwoody to keep what it has with DeKalb and not go private. Big words from someone whose city four years ago was where we are now.

Next was Sandy Springs representative Mr. Black. Being that Dunwoody is the little brother of Sandy Springs, I'm glad our neighbors sent someone over. I have to note that although Mr. Black works for Sandy Springs, he was with DeKalb for many years so he may be either biased or just wise with experience. I'll call him wise. He mentioned that Sandy Springs is private but said,
"I don't know why you'd go private here. It's (DeKalb) an excellent service at a great price."
One key thing Mr. Black reminded us about was the 1998 tornado that hit Dunwoody. he worked for DeKalb then and said DeKalb sanitation sent 60 crews out here and got the roads cleared and the debris out of here. He did not mention it but it goes without saying that Waste Management nor any other private company could not offer that level of service if such a disaster were to happen again. I think this was one of the most important points of the night. Warren and the other outsiders working for / running the city did not live here then and do not know of the destruction that took place.

Side note: This same issue was raised during the police decision. Could a Dunwoody PD handle a large-scale operation like DeKalb police could? Could Dunwoody PD have investigators, air support, SWAT, etc? The answer is no now, but sanitation and law enforcement are different. With a civil unrest situation or a need for tactical officers, we could call in other government agencies. With a tornado type situation Sandy Springs could not lend a hand with Waste Management and Doraville could not send ADS (their private trash hauler) to assist. Not comparing apples to apples, but worth noting.

Mr. Black states that DeKalb Sanitation has one of the top composting sites in the entire USA. Mr. Black of Sandy Springs could not speak more highly of DeKalb Sanitation.

Last up was a man from the State Dept. of Community Affairs. He said DeKalb is the largest public sanitation operation in the state. He said DeKalb landfill has 65 years worth of room, the largest on the east coast. The state average for landfill capacity is 27 years. He did mumble something about a use-based system whereas the more trash you have the more you pay (pay by the bag kinda deal). He said this type of system encouraged waste reduction. The only thing it encouraged tonight was grumbling from the Lawarence Welk folks sitting in front of me.

In review, the entire panel was pretty clear that Dunwoody should keep what it has now.

Public comment was not much, just a few supporters. One thing I liked was my district (district 1) councilman Robert Wittenstein standing up to ask a question during public comment.

Side note: The mayor and council folks had to sit not in their comfy leather swivel/rocker chairs up front, but instead the hard seats in the audience. The council folks brought padded seat cushions for their delicate butts. They were made of corduroy, all matching, with an image of the Farmhouse stitched in silk. I think they were gifts from the Dunwoody Preservation trust knitting club.

Anyway, Mr. Wittenstein put it out there, asking the county directly, 'can we stay with DeKalb and continue to pay the same as other DeKalb residents'? I could not think of a better question to ask. The answer from DeKalb was 'yes'. Although thy cannot guarantee the same rate we have now (they can't promise that rate to anyone in DeKalb either), they said things would stay the same through 2010. But he did say if their was an increase in 2011, it would be for everyone in DeKalb. We'd experience that increase if we did not become a city, so it's a wash. That was good news to hear. Of course the ultimate voice on this will be the DeKalb CEO and the DeKalb commissioners. But from what I gathered the CEO would go along with his Sanitation director. The city of Lithonia is in DeKalb and has kept DeKalb sanitation. They pay the same as we do now.

An interesting comment from the Doraville guy. He mentioned their failed annexation from last year and blamed part of it on sanitation. Those unincorporated DeKalb residents now have DeKalb trash but would have had to switch to Doraville's private system if annexed.

Our fear should be that if we try going private and it fails, would DeKalb Sanitation take us back? Would the CEO an commissioners allow us back in? Probably not.

I see no reason for Dunwoody to venture out and seek bids form private sanitation service. I feel even stronger about this after tonight's meeting.

I anticipate we'll keep DeKalb, with the city taking over the billing and adding a fee of $20 or so per household. Just hope they do a better job than they did getting business licenses switched from DeKalb to the city. But I think the sanitation department will be more willing to simply email an Excel file over with the current accounts.

Roll On DeKalb Trash Man!

Please take a look at my post from last week regarding my visit to the DeKalb Central Transfer Station and SP Recycling.