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With very little business to address Tuesday, the Grady County Board of Commissioners spent most of Tuesday morning’s meeting discussing two of the major issues facing the county—sanitation and grass mowing.
The county recently solicited proposals from private vendors to perform routine mowing of the county’s rights-of-way. Bids ranged from $226,800 to $300,000 annually.
This week, commissioners discussed various options with county administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, road superintendent Stanley Elkins and finance director Holly Murkerson.
Included in the options to be considered, in addition to privatizing the mowing, were options which included hiring additional manpower and purchasing additional equipment; continue to perform mowing with county forces but do periodic spraying to help control growth; and lastly to privatize and transfer current employees to other departments.
Road superintendent Elkins stated from the outset that if the board decided to continue mowing with county forces that existing equipment is older and some of it worn out and there would be additional expenses to maintaining the status quo.
“I want it understood we have mowers that need replacing now. The older ones are in real bad shape,” Elkins said.
County shop superintendent Chris Nix was also present for Tuesday’s workshop and he noted that in addition to mowers, the county needed to look at replacing high mileage tractors.
Commissioner June Knight, who has been pushing to look at alternatives for maintaining the rights-of-way, said she was opposed to eliminating county jobs, but she asked Elkins if his staff could not spray the rights-of-way themselves to help knock down the grass in between mowing.
Elkins said the county did not have the equipment to do in-house spraying.
Administrator Johnson shared his thoughts on privatizing the service with the board. Johnson said he feared that a vendor would do the “bare minimum” to continue getting paid and that the county would lose control, but would continue to receive complaints from the public. He also said he did not see savings in cash flow to warrant privatizing the service.
Commissioner Knight said she favored option one, which would be to hire an additional employee and an additional tractor and mower to help with the mowing.
The county administrator reminded the board that the projected annual cost of option one, $201,619.05 did not include the additional expense of replacing worn out, older equipment.
Commissioner Knight asked Elkins if with additional equipment and manpower the road department could keep up with the mowing.
“Provided conditions are suitable to mow and equipment is running I would say yes,” Elkins said. He noted that sometimes a piece of equipment could be out of service for three weeks or longer while the county waited to receive necessary parts to make repairs.
Elkins said the downtime with equipment out of service had hurt his department as much or more as weather, however, Johnson said the last two years had been two of the wettest in recent memory.
Commission Vice Chairman Phillip Drew proposed the county budget for equipment replacement annually so that every four years the equipment is rotated out and replaced with new equipment.
Elkins said the county also had the option of leasing tractors rather than purchasing them.
“How is it working with leasing sheriff’s cars?” Commissioner Ray Prince asked the shop superintendent.
According to Dix, the county is no longer having to spend money on expensive cam shafts and lifters going out and there is also a savings not having to purchase synthetic oil for those units.
However, the shop superintendent said that accidents involving sheriff’s vehicles were costly to the county with a recent accident involving a leased vehicle and a deer costing the county approximately $7,000.
“Lease or not you’ve got to fix it. It’s the price of doing business. The downside to a lease if it’s totaled we are stuck with it,” Johnson, a former state trooper, said.
Dix agreed and said that leasing was the best option as well for motor graders.
The board voted unanimously to proceed with plans to add an additional worker and to acquire additional equipment for the county’s mowing operation.
The board also discussed how to proceed with privatizing the county’s solid waste operation. Previously, the board solicited requests for qualifications and received only one response, which was from Taylor Waste Services of Cairo.
Commissioner LaFaye Copeland renewed her opposition to dealing with Taylor without reopening the RFQ to other potential vendors. She indicated that the outbreak of COVID-19 had impacted the response of other potential vendors.
Commission Chairman Keith Moye, Vice Chairman Drew and Commissioner Prince took issue with that and said that everyone had the same opportunity to put together a response and to submit as officials with Taylor Waste had.
Commissioner Copeland said she feared Taylor was “overwhelmed” with work for the City of Cairo and City of Whigham. “It’s not Taylor himself, but his workers. They do a lousy job in the city,” Commissioner Copeland said.
Vice Chairman Drew said he was a resident of the city and that Taylor was very prompt and did a good job.
Administrator Johnson sought the board’s guidance on how to proceed and what a contractor would be responsible for and what, if anything, would the county remain responsible for.
After additional discussion, the consensus was the county would complete the construction of the manned dumpster sites and then close down all unmanned sites. At that point, the county would retain management and employment of the site attendants, but the vendor would be responsible for collecting the solid waste and transporting it to a landfill as well as keeping the manned sites clean and litter free.
Road superintendent Elkins, who also oversees solid waste, suggested the county obtain a proposal from the successful vendor to supply the specific sized dumpster or the county could continue to purchase the dumpsters for the sites.
Vice Chairman Drew said that every time the county closes an unmanned site more local residents subscribe to Taylor’s household pickup service, which reduces the amount of garbage the county is having to pay tipping fees on.
Concerns about the future of employees involved in solid waste disposal currently was also discussed. Officials anticipated Taylor would hire those workers, but Johnson said he understood the board was not interested in eliminating anyone’s job. “Right now I have road crew personnel helping out trying to keep dumpster sites clean. By privatizing I will have my road crew doing what they need to be doing and that is maintaining our roads,” Johnson said.
The board voted unanimously Tuesday to solicit a request for proposals based on a vendor collecting and disposing of the solid waste from manned sites and maintaining those sites, but the county employing and managing the site attendants. According to Johnson, any vendor would be eligible to respond to the RFP, not just Taylor Waste.