City agrees to stand behind SPSA debts

Published 8:31 am Wednesday, February 25, 2009

FRANKLIN — The City Council voted unanimously Monday to write a letter to the governor guaranteeing that Franklin will pay its portion of $129 million in bonded indebtedness by the Southeast Public Service Authority if the waste management agency cannot fulfill its obligations.

The vote came in response to a recent letter by Gov. Tim Kaine to SPSA member communities, including Franklin, warning them to either stand behind SPSA’s debts or lose state funding for other projects. Kaine gave localities until today to respond.

Council also sought to clarify its decision to increase monthly residential garbage fees $15 — a 47-percent increase from the current fee of $32 per month.

Council voted to amend its previous decision to state that the increase will not exceed $15; the amendment also added that these funds are to be put into a separate checking account and, if the funds are not needed, they will be credited back to residents on a future bill.

In a meeting two weeks ago, the council agreed to put the additional money collected into an escrow account that would be used only if SPSA raised its tipping fees.

At that time, council members said that if SPSA did not raise fees, the money would be refunded or credited back to residents.

The council’s delegate on SPSA’s board, Barry Cheatham, further explained that the fee rise was “inevitable”.

“The bottom line is that they (SPSA) are in trouble. So, that means we are in trouble because the state said we have to come through to save them,” Cheatham said during Monday night’s council meeting.

Cheatham said it is necessary to take action now.

“The reason there’s a push to raise it now is because if we wait, instead of there being a $15 hike, it will be $30 or $40,” he said.

Cheatham said SPSA’s original plan to raise the tipping fee to $245 per ton for five months is likely no longer an option because of the time that has passed without a decision.

In January, a scheduled vote to raise the fees was nixed amid complaints that the garbage agency did not adequately advertise the meeting as required by the state Freedom of Information Act.

“Now the hike would be for maybe three months, and there are talks that the fee would go up to $359 because of compression,” Cheatham said.

“This means the same number of dollars are needed, just in a shorter amount of time,” he said. “With our way, it won’t be as burdensome on residents.”