Solid waste economics is a deep subject

CLEWISTON — City officials have backed off from a plan to increase monthly garbage collection fees for residents by more than 50 percent and now will conduct a workshop to examine all the connected issues in depth before deciding on rates for 2019 and beyond.

That’s not the only encouraging aspect of details regarding solid waste disposal by the city that have recently come to light as staff led by City Manager Al Perry, Public Works Director Sean Scheffler, Utilities Director Danny Williams and Finance Director Shari Howell have been researching the topic. In delving into the city’s and Hendry County’s responsibilities, they have uncovered several agreements dating back two decades or longer about how Hendry, in its partnership with the Lee County Solid Waste Authority (SWA), handles Clewiston’s garbage and refuse. One regards recycling, of which Clewiston residents don’t do much if any at all, because opportunities to do so have not been made widely available. It appears, though, that the county government is responsible for providing those. (See story on Page 7.)

One of the four challengers in Tuesday’s election for three Clewiston City Commission seats, Kevin McCarthy, showed up at the commission’s Oct. 15 meeting to throw in his 2 cents. The five commissioners were to hear remarks from Mr. Perry about the research later in the meeting, but the discussion began when Mr. McCarthy raised several points.

“In the last four years, the city has increased its solid waste disposal budget expense, not revenue, $360,000 or 112 percent. Lee County has increased the disposal fees by 41 percent in that same time, which are still lower than they were in 2007. If the other 71 percent is increased volume, then perhaps it’s time to do something different,” he said.

“In Clewiston, the only recycling bins are at the schools. For every pound that gets recycled, that’s a pound the city does not have to pay in disposal fees. So if the city were actually a partner in recycling either through many more recycling bins throughout the city or through recycling carts at individual homes, perhaps you could be having this discussion about a much smaller rate increase. Maybe then you could go to one day a week for garbage, one day a week for recycling, with no increase in equipment or personnel. I would hope the discussion you have is not whether to go up $5.50 or $11 (the increase amounts over the current $19.95-a-month rate that have been discussed), but how can we reduce our expenses, reduce our impact on the environment and save our residents money.”

The city’s waste is disposed of by the Lee SWA through an arrangement with Hendry.

Mayor Mali Gardner responded by saying the city has been talking about recycling for a long time but “has been slow to get into it mostly because of the financial aspect, what it would cost to put the tippers out at every house in town and, more so, what we would do with it after we got it picked up.” She explained, though, that “we have discovered some documents that yes, Hendry County is the authority when it comes to disposal of solid waste across the board” and “that the county would be responsible for the recycling programs” in both the two cities and outlying areas. The agreements date to 1989 and 1993.

Finance Director Howell said the first was “an interlocal agreement basically … stating that the county has a responsibility for the recycling program and also counties have the responsibility to get rid of solid waste.” Another is a lease between Hendry
and Clewiston that allows the Lee County SWA to have the transfer station in the city. “The main one,” she continued, “is between Hendry and Lee, a 26-page document that spells out the arrangement, includes the $5 surcharge (that the city pays per ton), which goes into a Hendry reserve fund. We’ve asked what has it been used for lately and if recycling is included in that, and right now we’re waiting for that.”

Mayor Gardner then learned from City Manager Perry that the city has requested all the relevant information from the county but “have not gotten it back yet,” he said.

have not gotten it back yet,” he said. Then she summarized the situation: “There’s not a recommendation yet, but I know in speaking to you … that what we originally thought would be an increase of $11, we believe after the research and looking at the information that we have and with Shari deep-diving into this whole issue, that that is not going to be the case. Or we can’t make a final decision until we have all the information from the county?”

“Correct,” Mr. Perry answered.

The mayor asked him to set up date and time as soon as possible for a workshop on the matter, but evidently research still is being done because it was not an agenda item for the commission’s meeting Nov. 6.

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