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Dacula officials wrestle with sanitation costs

DACULA — City officials in Dacula held two public information sessions on Tuesday, giving residents the opportunity to hear two messages: First, the city can no longer absorb about half the cost of solid waste disposal for its property owners. Second, there are several options being considered as solutions to that problem.

Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks said Tuesday that the $10 per month the city collects from homeowners comes nowhere near being enough to cover the cost of solid waste pickup. While minimal fees are charged for limb removal and chipping, leaf and appliance removal, the city matches every dollar collected from residents with a dollar from the general fund.

“Soon, we will be dipping into the city’s reserves; that’s a position we don’t want to be in,” Wilbanks said.

In fact, over the past eight years the city of Dacula has paid $1,539,553 (or a loss of about $200,000 a year) to subsidize sanitation costs.

“That’s money the city could certainly have used elsewhere,” said Wilbanks. “We have to look at what we have to do to close that gap.”

Several options designed to do just that were presented Tuesday: reduce the service; raise prices; raise taxes; or privatize the service. Wilbanks also added that the cost charged for limb pickup and chipping should be raised, since many residents rely on the city to provide those services for free or at deeply discounted rates. This service “is a huge burden on the city,” said Wilbanks.

Another option on the table is stopping or phasing out free sanitation service for senior citizens. Also being considered is charging a fee on residents’ tax bills. That practice would greatly reduce the cost of administering the service (billing and collecting the fee), although according to the mayor, “I think this is an option the council will reject.”

City leaders and staff are also investigating the cost of privatizing the service, as both Grayson and Norcross have done.

“I think we need to look at this,” said Wilbanks, adding that the city would likely choose a single provider to avoid several companies’ trucks driving throughout the city several days a week.

Following the two sessions held Tuesday, decision-makers will meet and attempt to narrow the options down to just two or three. Citizens will get additional opportunities to provide input at an as-yet-unscheduled public hearing. In the meantime, those who have suggestions for the mayor and council to consider can call city hall, drop their written ideas in the City Hall drop box, or e-mail the mayor or any council member.