LAWRENCEVILLE - Money is always a contentious topic when it comes to discussing the operations of and services provided by the government. This past week, during what could be called Gwinnett's garbage trial of the century, the money involved also took centerstage.
There was talk concerning the potential $500 fine levied on customers who aren't recycling and disposing of their trash correctly, and along those lines, talk about unoccupied/foreclosed homes and whether they need to pay for service at all.
Another concern stemmed from the $9,000 fee that hauler Sanitation Solutions had to pay to an accounting firm in order to participate and bid to compete.
And naturally, there was discussion about the performance bond required of these two small haulers who are seeking the preliminary injunction against the county in order to keep the garbage service status quo as is.
At issue concerning the bond, why did these firms - the other being Southern Sanitation - need to post at minimum a $2 million performance bond to service just more than 6,000 customers, especially considering the fact that these two firms had been operating in the current county environment without issue or complaint and only a $150,000 bond for years?
Judge Michael Clark of Gwinnett Superior Court will issue his ruling concerning these matters and a plethora of others related to the case later this week.
One of the more interesting comments that emerged from his mouth this past week came as the result of a conversation he had in court with the three participating attorneys representing Gwinnett County, Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful and the two initial haulers seeking the injunction to temporarily keep trash service as-is.
"If there was no money in this, none of us would be here," Clark said.
What used to be eight haulers collecting the residents' money in return for taking their trash has now changed to two. And that alone means a lot of money is changing where it comes from and goes, at least in terms of trash collection in Gwinnett County.
Before this matter ended up in court, Sanitation Solutions owner Kevin Byrd and Southern Sanitation owner Buddy Johnson said they only wanted to keep working in Gwinnett like they had been. As Byrd put it, "We were just seeking a small piece of the pie."
That statement only leads to the following question, at least as it pertains to garbage collection and disposal in Gwinnett - just how was and how is that money pie being divvied up?
The county's take
One of the many arguments Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Director Connie Wiggins has made in support of the new solid waste plan is that it will offer service to every home in unincorporated Gwinnett County.
She said one of the main complaints her group received in doing its surveys when this process got under way more than a year ago was that there were 20,000 of unincorporated Gwinnett County's approximately 180,000 total homes that didn't have garbage or recycling service at all. This in turn led to illegal dumping and subsequently a dirtier county.
Wiggins could be correct, too, according to Gwinnett County's Solid Waste Franchise Agreement for the third quarter of 2008. Assuming it's correct, the eight haulers that currently operate in Gwinnett serviced 139,592 homes during that period, which suggests there might be nearly 40,000 homes without service.
According to Wiggins, each hauler that operates in Gwinnett currently is required to file the number of homes it services each quarter along with a $2.40 quarterly franchise fee per home, which means $0.80 per month per home is payable to the county. So based on those numbers and under the current plan in place, Gwinnett County would receive a $0.80 per month-per home payment from each of the eight haulers. That totals revenue of $1,340,083 for a year. Wiggins said from the $0.80 Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful gets $0.34 a month, which would give it annual revenue of $569,535.
In an e-mail, Wiggins said that money is invested in the community in a number of ways, which include Christmas tree recycling, water quality and conservation educational programs, recycling programs and facilities, and litter cleanup and graffiti prevention programs for the 440 square miles of Gwinnett.
Under the terms of the new plan and assuming there are 180,000 homes in the county, Wiggins said in court Friday that regardless of whether a home is occupied or not, the way she understands the new ordinance is that the owner is responsible for payment of the monthly fee, which come July 1 will be $17.86 per household per month.
That amount multiplied by 12 months will then appear annually as a line item on affected residents' property tax bills. From that $17.86 per month-per home, $2.97 of it will go the county. Of that $2.97, $1.30 will go to Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Services each month.
In a year, the county's revenue stream will total $6,415,200. If you took the $2.97 and used only the actual number of homes that haulers reported as servicing in the third quarter of 2008 - 139,592 - the revenue stream in a year for the county would be $4,975,059. Compared to the $1,340,083 the county currently takes in from the haulers, in either scenario the county will come away under the new plan with at least $3 million more per year in additional revenue.
For Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Services, or what Judge Clark referred to this week as "the operational arm of Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful," the nonprofit, private corporation will now receive $1.30 per month per customer from the county, a hefty increase over the current $0.34 per month it receives per household. In a year, that revenue stream for 180,000 homes would total $2,808,000. Using the current number of homes as reported by the haulers, that number equals $2,177,635. In either scenario, Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful pulls in more than an additional $1.5 million in revenue per year.
When asked about what Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Services would be doing with the extra revenue, Wiggins' response was that the organization would be coordinating, providing, administering, managing and enforcing all operations required under the solid waste plan.
"The plan includes several core elements," she wrote in an e-mail. "Waste reduction, waste collection, waste disposal, education and public involvement."
Wiggins defended the decision to only award the garbage hauling contracts to two firms this week saying, "The request for proposal process was competition at its best."
She also said that by not awarding the contracts to a third hauler, as was initially discussed in the request for proposal process, that Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful saved the residents more than $7 million over the course of the 7-year contract.
"In doing this, our goal was to protect the best interest of the citizens," Wiggins said.