For two more months, residents of Bullock County will bring their household garbage to the street once a week, confident that their bins will be emptied and readied to fill again.

In August, garbage pickup in Bullock County will end if the county doesn't find a new contractor, and families will have to figure out their own plans to get rid of their trash.

“It’s serious because garbage is going to build up,” said Bullock County Commission Chairman Alonza Ellis. “People are going to be dumping on the side of the roads, throwing trash out on the roads.”

Amwaste has picked up garbage in Bullock County for the past three years. Ellis told 1819 News that citizens and commissioners did not like it when the company wanted to raise rates, so the county put out a new bid in hopes of finding a cheaper option.

A major problem became clear when no company tried to bid for the service.

“[Commissioners] gambled and nobody bid it, not even AmWaste put in a third bid,” said Ellis. “…They didn’t like it because [prices] went up. Who does like it when things go up? But that’s just the time we’re living in now, and it’s just unfortunate we didn’t have a backup plan.”

From the rising price of diesel fuel to the increasing costs of garbage trucks and manpower, 32-year garbage industry veteran Rick Sweeney calls inflation’s impact on garbage collection “mind-boggling.”

Sweeney is Vice President of Operations for Amwaste.

“The percentage increase and the speed at which they are increasing has been almost mind-boggling when it is almost week to week, month to month that we are seeing the continuing trend of prices going up for almost any facet of our industry,” Sweeney told 1819 News.

Sweeney said the cost of diesel fuel is up by 68% and that his garbage trucks each burn about 50 gallons per day. He said Amwaste also had to increase wages for incoming drivers by 18-25%, due to the national driver shortage. He said parts and trucks are also harder to find and more expensive.

Now, he says Amwaste is examining its rates and contracts across the state.

“In some contracts, it has put us in the situation where we are no longer making money, and we are either losing or breaking even,” Sweeney said. “And in other contracts, it has been the expectation of where we would be, versus where we are.”

Other garbage companies and cities providing their own service are also raising rates by double digits.

In the city of Clay, for example, families began paying a 30% increase June 1 for garbage collection, under a new agreement with Republic Services.  

Republic has not responded to 1819 News’ request for an interview.

The city of Atmore, which provides its own garbage service, is raising garbage bills in July for the first time in 14 years. Mayor Jim Staff says households must pay a 50% monthly increase to cover the rising costs of fuel and the increase in tipping fees at the dump.

Ending Contracts Early

In Jefferson County, County Manager Cal Markert expects garbage bills to rise.

He received a letter from Amwaste requesting to end its contract with the county due to rising costs. 

“We would like to retain the business,” Sweeney said. “We just can’t do it at the pricing we currently have. That’s why we’ve requested they go back out to bid.”

Jefferson County’s contract with Amwaste says either party can leave the agreement if there’s a “contingency beyond the reasonable control of the contractor or the county.”

“Our initial reaction was we’ve got to look pretty closely at the contract, and what it says, what they can get out of and what they can’t,” Markert said. “We feel good about the company. They’ve worked extremely hard it seems like to get things in order after months of dissatisfied customers. So, we want it to work, we want it to be profitable and it’s just very disappointing we’re going through it. I know it’s got to be a struggle.”

Sweeney told 1819 News he expects Amwaste to request a 20-25% increase in Jefferson County.

Markert says any potential price increase would be passed directly to households.

Currently, families in unincorporated Jefferson County can choose whether they want to use the county’s garbage collection agreement. Markert says the county is now considering mandatory garbage pickup to increase the number of customers, get a better rate and reduce the amount of any potential increase in their monthly bills.

When asked about his message to families, Markert said, “We don’t want their costs to go up at all, but people can’t lose money, and you can’t be in business and lose money so we’re going to do the best we can to get them the best price we can.”

He expects decisions to be made over the next two to three months.

Cities providing their own service also feel the pain

In Gadsden, the city provides its own garbage service.

A $13 monthly fee for households in Gadsden doesn’t cover all the expenses, so the city’s general fund subsidizes garbage service. Gadsden’s general fund will need to subsidize the garbage fund by $550,000 in the fiscal year 2022, a 16% increase over last year.  

Gadsden Finance Director Lisa Rosser said a potential fee increase should be looked at “without a doubt,” adding that Gadsden has only raised garbage rates one time in the last 22 years.

“Inflation definitely affects the cost of running this service, especially the increase in gasoline cost,” Rosser said. “The biggest cost is tipping cost which is what we have to pay for an independent contractor to haul our garbage from our own landfill to another landfill.”

In Shelby County, the city of Alabaster is also coping with the rising costs of providing its own garbage collection. Neal Waggoner, a PR specialist with the city, says that “the most significant increase [is] a 42% increase in fuel costs.”

Waggoner expects families in Alabaster to face higher garbage bills in November. The city’s rates are automatically adjusted each November to correlate to the rising cost of inflation.

Specifically, Alabaster’s rate is linked to the Consumer Price Index for all items except for food and fuel nationwide, measured each August by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure currently sits at 6.2%, comparing prices from April 2021 to April 2022.

Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Mobile also provide their own garbage collection services, without using an outside vendor. These cities did not provide specifics about their increased costs.

Cahaba Solid Waste Authority prepares to discuss increases

In 2021, a group of cities in Jefferson, Shelby and Chilton counties formed the Cahaba Solid Waste Authority, in an effort to lower the cost of garbage collection by bidding out the service as a group and getting a better rate.

Hoover, Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, Homewood, Trussville, Clanton and Pelham make up that authority today. Some of the cities already entered into the authority’s negotiated contract with Amwaste, and others have intentions to when their current contracts expire.

Sweeney says Amwaste is working to schedule a June meeting with the authority to discuss potential increases.

Amwaste’s contract with the authority allows it to request up to a five percent increase to take effect each October, based on an annual inflation measurement.

Specifically, the contract examines the annual increase each June for the nationwide Consumer Price Index published for Garbage and Trash Collection.  Most recently, that figure was published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics at 4.6%, measured from April 2021 to April 2022.  

When 1819 News asked Sweeney if he believes Amwaste can keep any potential increase under five percent or if he anticipates seeking a new agreement, as he did in Jefferson County, he said his team is evaluating prices now.

“I think it will depend on what happens with the economic climate,” Sweeney replied. “…. Depending on what we see there, it would be my hope we can minimize any need for increase, but if costs continue to go up, there may be a need to request additional increases.”

Hoover City Administrator and Solid Waste Authority Chairman Allan Rice said he hasn’t yet been approached about this June meeting but that he is not surprised. He called it “inevitable.”

“At the end of the day, we have to remove trash from our community and get it to where it’s supposed to go,” Rice said. “So there really isn’t a model I’m aware of where you can avoid those cost increases we’ve talked about, so we’ll have to just make a quantitative and qualitative decision about whether it can be done through a different model or whether this is the right model and we just need to be prepared to absorb some cost increases.”

Hoover’s contract is valued at around $7.2 million annually. The city currently pays this from its general fund, without passing on bills to families. A hypothetical 4.6% increase would mean an additional $331,200 annually for the city of Hoover.

“We would first look within our existing budget to see where reductions might be made to absorb some of the costs of service increases, and then we would have a discussion beyond that with elected officials to determine the right way to go,” Rice said about how the city would handle a potential increase.

The authority’s agreement with Amwaste requires any price increase to be voted on by the authority’s board. No date has been set yet for the June meeting.

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