Cobb looks to add sanitation to county services, sparking debate

Cobb County commissioners are considering new regulations on trash pickup, and a plan to contract sanitation services for unincorporated residents.

The proposal, discussed during Tuesday’s work session, would establish four residential zones for trash pickup and allow the county to select multiple service providers per zone.

There is some confusion over the proposal, however, because it later says that only one provider will be selected by the county in each zone. A county spokesman wasn’t immediately available to clarify the apparent contradiction.

The county would collect trash fees through property tax bills, with other billing options available as well. The proposal also establishes county standards that aren’t currently in place for trash companies, such as maintaining proper pickup schedules and offering recycling services.

Jonathan Jenkins, the director of Cobb’s sustainability, waste and beautification department, said residents have reached out about a whole host of issues with their current trash service.

“We have residents that have no haulers that want to service their street or culdesac,” Jenkins said. “Residents that have only one choice for a hauler that they are not satisfied with. In both of those cases, they reach out to the county, and we have nothing that we can offer, I guess as a resolution for them.”

Some residents have concerns about not being able to choose their own trash pickup provider.

Hill Wright, and other community members, started a website called “Save my Cobb trash collector” to oppose the proposal.

Wright, who lives in East Cobb, said he fears establishing county contracts for trash services will drive the smaller, family-owned sanitation companies out of business and take away the opportunity for people to choose their service provider.

“People are leaving the company they’ve got a complaint with, going to another company that serves them well, and they have that option,” he said. “They want to make that choice themselves.”

Jenkins said the open market worked well when the county had over 60 haulers operating. But the issues have arisen now that the county only has between 18 and 20 haulers permitted to operate in unincorporated areas, Jenkins said to the board.

Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said she wants to consider ways to prevent the smaller companies from going out of business as a result of the proposal, but the board needs to do something to address the issues that have affected county residents for years.

“We’ve been telling people year after year that we’re working on a solution,” Cupid said. “Residents have been dealing with this for far too long and expecting us to do something.”

City trash services are provided in Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw, Marietta, Powder Springs and Smyrna, but 74% of the county population lives in unincorporated Cobb, according to U.S. census data.

The proposal is part of a larger package of code amendment changes being considered by the commission. Cupid said the board will continue having conversations about and making adjustments to the proposal before the entire package goes up for a vote later this year.