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County talks frustrations with solid waste contractor

by J.D. Bailey on 06/02/20

With citizen complaints continuing to roll in over the lack of regular brush and bulk pickups in the county, many local justices of the peace, as well as County Judge Denny Foster, on Monday night vented their frustrations with Columbia County’s contracted solid waste pickup provider, WCA (Waste Corporation of Arkansas).

JP Oliver Thomas, who represents District 7 and chairs the Columbia County Quorum Court Solid Waste Committee, highlighted numerous areas of the county where, he said, solid waste pickup services have been neglected.

“I’m not exaggerating, any place you go in the city [of Magnolia] or in Waldo, there is debris,” he said. “I get calls about it, and I contact our contractor, but they don’t do anything.”

Thomas on Monday afternoon, ahead of the Quorum Court’s regular monthly meeting, drove throughout Waldo’s Roselawn Street, Hwy. 371 N. between Waldo and Magnolia, Hwy. 98 West from Waldo, and the area of Olive and Parkway Street, as well as Jackson Street and Calhoun Streets in Magnolia, to see firsthand the complaints.

“This debris is not just momentary,” Thomas added. “The [WCA-Columbia County solid waste] contract says that it will be picked up all over the county once a week; that is not happening.”

The solid waste chairman also had some blunt words for the county’s contractor, essentially saying that the county and its taxpayers are upholding their end of the bargain, but the solid waste provider is not fulfilling its part.

“The citizens of Columbia County deserve a little bit better help,” he said. “...Over $187,000 per month that the citizens pay to WCA. If they’re not complaining about their salary, then we shouldn’t be complaining about services. There is no alignment between what they promised and what we’re getting.”

The county signed a five-year solid waste contract with WCA in August 2018. The Houston-based company, which is otherwise known as Waste Corporation of America, has hauling, landfill, and transfer station operations in 10 other states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Florida. The firm has been Columbia County’s solid waste pickup provider since 2015.

Thomas said Monday that the contract, he believes, does not contain any judicial consequence language for WCA if it does not fulfill its promised services. Thomas noted that the agreement only stated what services WCA would be responsible for, saying that it was more of a “trust” contract.

County Judge Denny Foster on Monday echoed Thomas’ and other JP’s frustrations with WCA. He said his office receives dozens of calls per week over solid waste issues and that the county has already spent $11,781 this year repairing 322 damaged green curbside garbage cans. The total cost included parts, labor, and mileage. Each wheel costs $6.95 to replace, the axle costs $6.95, and the lid is $19.95, according to the Judge. Last month, JP Jason Ray stated that the wheels on his two-week-old cans were broken off, due to WCA trucks harshly handling them.

WCA is not responsible for fixing the damaged cans, according to Foster. Since the bins are technically county property, the county is responsible for fixing and maintaining them, thus footing the bill. The Judge also said that this year alone, 73 cans have “gone missing." They are replaced at $53.97 per can.

To help remedy some of the brush and debris pickup issues, a resolution was presented Monday before the Quorum Court that would have funded an additional grapple truck operator. The driver would have been a county employee and would have driven a grapple truck that the county already owns. The motion, though, failed to pass by a narrow 6-5 margin.

JPs Marjie Blair, Penny Cook, Steve Lee, Jason Ray, Burnie Sharp, and Russell Thomas, voted “no” on the resolution, while JPs Annette Pate, Lynn Story, Terry Williams, Oliver Thomas, and Rick Waller all voted “yes.”

The resolution would have doubled the county's brush- and bulk-pickup abilities by having two grapple trucks running at once throughout the county, instead of one. Grapple trucks are able to pick up bulk debris loads. The additional Class B CDL-rated driver would have made a salary of $31,200 per year.

The primary issues the dissenting voters had with the resolution included the county having to make up the slack for services that WCA is already contracted to perform, as well as the amount the additional driver would have been paid.

Foster noted Monday that he knew the county should not have to add a driver of its own and that those contractual issues could be addressed at a future Quorum Court Solid Waste Committee meeting, but, at some point, the piling debris needs to be removed from county addresses.

“I want [WCA] doing their part, too, but I’m tired of stuff laying there two months without being picked up,” he said.

Foster, during discussion on the resolution, also noted that the county “has got to do something to get [WCA’s] attention."  He was attempting to mitigate some of the bulk debris complaint-calls and get the county cleaned up.

“I know it’s not the county’s responsibility if you read the contract with WCA, but their contract is not being fulfilled by them, therefore we get 20 calls a day about the bulk buildup.”

The judge also mentioned renegotiating the contract. JP Russell Thomas said it looked as if WCA was in breach-of-contract already by not fulfilling its negotiated terms.

JP Steve Lee added that the county’s solid waste contractor prior to WCA, Get Rid of It, had many of the same issues discussed Monday, but, “there comes a time when someone’s got so to say ‘not anymore.’”

One of Blair’s main issues with the resolution brought before the Court on Monday had to do with salaries. She stated that the county had tried to keep many county jobs in a similar pay range and that she did not believe a grapple truck operator should make more than a county jailor or another truck operator. The difference in pay between the operators was roughly $1,000 per year, according to the JP. Foster noted that the grapple truck requires a CDL-rated driver, and that necessitated the extra pay.

Although the Quorum Court could not come to a consensus on the resolution Monday, the members did agree that a Solid Waste Committee meeting would be required soon to further hash out the issues with WCA.

“This is nothing new with WCA,” said Williams. “I think we need to form a Committee meeting, decide what we’re going to do, approach WCA, and say, ‘enough is enough of this shit and let’s move on.”

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