No choice, SPSA says

Published 7:52 am Friday, January 23, 2009

FRANKLIN—Public outcry persists over the Southeastern Public Service Authority’s intentions to raise its garbage tipping fee from the current $104 per ton to $245 per ton for the next five months, making it the highest such fee in the country.

At a Wednesday night public hearing sponsored by the Franklin City Council, about 40 citizens heard SPSA Executive Director Bucky Taylor and SPSA attorney Anthony Thiel explain and defend the increase. They said there is not much choice in the matter.

If the tipping fee is not raised to the proposed level, SPSA might go belly-up, Taylor said.

“I don’t want the tipping fees to go up like that; I don’t think anybody does. But there could be a time in 2009 when SPSA does not have enough money to operate if we don’t,” Taylor said.

The regional garbage agency serves Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County among other Hampton Roads localities. Franklin residents, who pay for curbside garbage pickup, are expected to pay about $55 a month, up 72 percent from the current $32 per month.

Southampton and Isle of Wight residents pay for garbage disposal through their property taxes, and it is unclear how the increased tipping fee will affect citizens in those localities.

Taylor cited several reasons for SPSA’s current fiscal trouble, including the economic downturn, a 37 reduction in waste tonnage, lack of competitive advantage, and contractual inequities among member localities.

When SPSA officials visited Franklin in December, citizens were upset after learning that Suffolk and Virginia Beach would not have to pay more for garbage disposal and were not interested in negotiating new contracts.

As host of a regional landfill, Suffolk pays no tipping fees. Virginia Beach, under the terms of a contract that expires in 2015, has its tipping fee capped at $58 per ton.

Thiel said there has been a shift in attitude by Virginia Beach and Suffolk officials.

“They now understand what a precarious situation SPSA is in. They accept the fact that if they don’t try to help take the pressure off the tipping fees, they will lose their deals completely and be just like everyone else,” he said.

Taylor assured citizens that during the coming five-month period, SPSA officials will keep a close watch and offer relief from the higher fees if possible.

“We will continue to monitor and see if the $245 can be reduced based on factors like a possible tonnage increase,” he said.

In an open forum following SPSA’s explanation, Franklin resident Joe Stutts said: “I support the decision to raise the tipping fee temporarily through the next several months. However, I fear SPSA is on the precipice of serious danger, because any further increase in fees will most assuredly create a rebellion,” he said.

Bobby Tyler, a contractor and developer, wondered why the only SPSA customers being affected are the municipalities while SPSA’s contracts with other parties remain untouched.

“We are the only entities that are on the hook. The business and contractors can go somewhere else to get service,” he said.

Retiree Everett Williams pointed out that cost-cutting in SPSA’s budget does not reflect its reduction in business.

“It seems unreasonable to me that the workload was cut by 37 percent, but you only cut expenses by 3 percent,” Williams said. “That just doesn’t seem right.”

Taylor told the group that SPSA’s leadership was doing everything it could to lessen the blow.

“I had a meeting with the departments and told them, ‘If it’s not a matter of life and death, you won’t spend the money.’ ”

On Wednesday, SPSA’s board, which is composed of a representative from each locality SPSA serves, will meet in Chesapeake to vote on the proposed tipping-fee increase. A public hearing will precede the vote. Five votes are required to pass the increase.