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Down in the dumps
Commission takes heat over trash plan

LAWRENCEVILLE - Commissioners Tuesday defended a decision to implement a countywide trash plan after citizens spoke out against the idea during afternoon and evening sessions.

"We've been studying this for almost three years," Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said of complaints that the citizens were unaware of the plan. Beaudreau listed numerous attempts to get taxpayer input, including public meetings, community forums, online polls, telephone surveys and an invitation to comment in county water bills.

"It went through a clear vetting, a clear bid process," Beaudreau said. "Nothing's under lock and key."

To cut down on garbage truck traffic through neighborhoods, officials recently chose two haulers to service the unincorporated parts of Gwinnett through a bidding process. The plan, which goes into effect Jan. 1, also increases recycling options and makes trash service mandatory, since 20,000 single-family homes currently don't pay for the service.

According to details recently released, customers must pay a hauler for the first six months of 2009, with payment after that reflected on tax bills.

Denesa Snell said government interference wasn't needed, and that truck traffic could be reduced simply by allowing neighborhoods to negotiate with haulers.

"I am outraged about the new trash plan. There should have been a vote to let the citizens decide," said the Loganville woman, who works for a trash hauling company and said she will lose her job because of the plan.

She said the move violates the freedom of choice and free enterprise principles of America.

"This entire new trash plan should be trashed," she said.

But Commissioner Bert Nasuti said the county only got involved in the service when citizens spoke against problems in the community, and he pointed out that nearly every city and county regulates the industry.

"At the end of the day, we've come up with the best system we can," he said. "Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation has come from the disgruntled, losing (bid) companies."

Nasuti said the county lawyers are looking into recourse against "unscrupulous companies" that have "inflicted pain on our citizens" by charging disconnect fees. "It's kind of their way of poking their finger in our eye."

At the Board of Commissioners' afternoon session, one woman did speak in favor of the plan. Patti Jo Shapiro said she has followed the process of formulating the plan and believes it will beautify the county.

"We might not like every aspect of it, but you've heard our voices, and you are making a change," she said. "I'm looking forward to a better and cleaner Gwinnett."

Things got more heated at the night meeting.

Buddy Johnson, the owner of Southern Sanitation for eight years and a resident of Gwinnett County his entire life, said at that session that the plan was putting him and his 14 employees out of business by not being selected. He said that when he spoke out against the plan in December, Chairman Charles Bannister told him that wouldn't occur.

"You assured me my company wouldn't be put out of business and that's the reality I'm facing now," Johnson said. "And it ain't pretty."

Johnson and Kevin Bird of Sanitation Solutions also called into question the fairness of increasing the performance bond required to service Gwinnett County.

Johnson said for the first six years he operated in Gwinnett, the bond was $75,000. He said last year that bond was raised to $150,000.

Johnson said with the bid he had to submit, to service the smallest service area of the county under the new plan, the performance bond the county required was now equal to $2 million or equal to the total annual revenue he would receive from his clients. He said that was something he or Sanitation Solutions couldn't meet without outside help, which they noted in their bids.

Johnson said once the bids were submitted, he was contacted by Connie Wiggins of Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful to come in and discuss his bid and negotiate. He said that meeting never took place, but it was unclear as to why. He also questioned why the announcements of the selected haulers were delayed from Oct. 17 until after the elections on Nov. 4. The announcements of the two selected haulers were made Nov. 7.

As Johnson's time expired, he demanded answers from the Board and said he wasn't going away.

"I'm here on behalf of my family and my employees and I've had to explain to my 14-year-old son how the county could take my business away from me," Johnson said. "And now I'll be facing bankruptcy."

The auditorium erupted with applause from about 75 people once Johnson had finished speaking.

- Staff Writer Jamie Ward contributed to this report.