County garbage customers will pay more than cities'

While Gwinnett County's solid waste plan lowers rates for many unincorporated residents, cities have fared much better in their contracts for residential garbage service.

Among cities with a collection program similar to the one adopted by Gwinnett County last month, Auburn has the highest rates. But residents there are still paying $2.35 less a month than unincorporated residents will pay. Auburn residents pay $15.51 per month to Robertson Sanitation for garbage collection, recycling and bulk items. It's virtually the same deal Gwinnett County swung with five other haulers in March for $17.86 per month.

But Auburn is getting free yard waste collection and a senior citizen discount rate of $13.11 per month. The county's deal includes neither. Yard waste removal is $10 extra per month for unincorporated residents.

Loganville, with the second highest rate among municipalities, contracts with Waste Pro for $15 a month ($13.25 for seniors). Their service does not include yard waste, however. The city takes care of that.

But county officials say the comparisons are faulty because small, compact cities can usually be serviced more efficiently and cheaply than a 437-square-mile county.

Gwinnett’s trash plan for unincorporated areas is an enterprise plan, and all of the costs are represented in the fees charged to customers, said county spokesman Joe Sorenson. Also, the county negotiated cost controls in the contract to prevent haulers from raising prices for 18 months due to inflation or fuel prices.

Opponents of the county's new solid waste plan are not convinced.

Red Oak Sanitation, which services about 3,500 unincorporated Gwinnett residents and is suing the county, alleges the county plan is unlawful because it provides five haulers exclusive franchises without having put the work up for competitive bid. Red Oak attorney Edwin Saginar has said the county may have inflated the negotiated cost of collection to compensate the five haulers for damages they were seeking in lawsuits filed over a previous solid waste plan.

Those five haulers, Waste Pro, Advanced Disposal, Sanitation Solutions, Southern Sanitation and Robertson Sanitation, had themselves sued the county over a solid waste plan that was to begin in 2009. Waste Pro and Advanced were seeking $40 million each in damages. Those suits were settled shortly after the county announced its new solid waste plan last month.

The settlement provided Sanitation Solutions with 10,000 customers and Southern Sanitation with 13,000. Republic, Waste Pro and Advanced will each serve about 42,000. In addition, Sanitation Solutions and Southern Sanitation received a settlement of $50,000 each from Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful, the agency selected to administer the failed 2009 plan. Robertson is now owned by Republic.

Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Michael Clark has granted Red Oak an emergency hearing on its suit scheduled for Tuesday.

But Aaron Bovos, director of finance for Gwinnett County, disputes the charges.

"It's important to note that the majority of our existing residents are paying more than $17.86 per month," he said. "It was difficult for us to get comparisons across the industry on services, cart sizes, recycling, etc., to be able to compare costs."

Further, he said, a county-commissioned study by R.W. Beck showed Gwinnett's new rates are comparable to similar counties: DeKalb County, $22.08 per month; Augusta-Richmond County, $28.83 per month; Georgia counties range from $14 to $28.83 per month (not including Camden County at $9.97), with some costs subsidized; rates outside Georgia range from $14.17 to $42.25 per month.

More than half of the cities in Gwinnett subsidize the cost of residential garbage collection in one form or another. Buford, Dacula and Lawrenceville have their own service and charge residents $10 or less per month, well below the cost it takes to operate. Lilburn and Snellville each contract for collection with private haulers but charge residents nothing for garbage service.

Duluth, which is in the midst of negotiating a new contract, subsidizes the cost of its residential pickup. Residents pay $33.92 for a box of 20 garbage bags for household waste. Seniors pay half-price for the bags. The city's public works department collects garbage weekly, and Robertson Sanitation has been contracted to collect yard waste for $88 a year, $7.33 per month.

Norcross and Grayson likewise subsidize a small portion of residential collection fees.

Loganville uses its franchise fee from Waste Pro to pay municipal workers to collect yard trimmings and appliances.

Sugar Hill may have negotiated the sweetest deal of all. Residents pay $10 or $11.50 a month to Advanced Disposal for garbage collection, depending on the size of the container. The city also gets a franchise fee, which it plows back into the general fund to help pay for yard waste pickup.

"All I did was guarantee them 5,200 customers," said City Manager Bob Hail. "Even the guys who lost the bid beat the county's deal by $5. It's tragic."

Garbage service in Gwinnett cities

City-Monthly charge-Yard waste-Senior rate-Operator

Auburn-$15.51-Included-$13.11-Robertson Sanitation

Berkeley Lake-$11.74-Included-No-Advanced Disposal

Brazelton-Allows residents choice of any hauler

Buford*-$2-Included-No-Municipal

Dacula*-$10-Included-Free-Municipal

Duluth*-$1.70 per bag-$7.33/mo.-85 cents per bag-Municipal/Robertson

Grayson*-$11.66-Included-$7.50-Robertson Sanitation

Lawrenceville*-$7.50-Free, if less than truckload-$3.50-Municipal

Lilburn*-Free-Included-NA-Advanced Disposal

Loganville-$15-Municipal pickup-$13.25-Waste Pro

Norcross*-$10.87-Municipal arrangement-Free-Advanced Disposal

Snellville*- Free to residents; City pays Republic $9 per resident per month

Sugar Hill-$10/$11.50-Municipal-No-Advanced Disposal

Suwanee- Allows choice of eight licensed haulers

Cities with * subsidize residential rates to some degree

Notes:

Norcross defrays some of the cost for residential service by increasing fees for commercial collection.

Sugar Hill rates are for 65- and 95-gallon containers. City also offers alternative residential service for $1.25 per bag.

Snellville receives a small share of the $2.50 residents pay for a five-pack of paper bags where they must put their yard trimmings.