Garbage fees raise big stink with school board

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By Jenna McKenna

An increase of 143 percent in the cost to collect garbage for Williston schools has the Levy County School Board steaming. At Tuesday’s meeting of the board, Superintendent Bob Hastings said the city of Williston had recently stopped providing its own waste pickup service and instead contracted with vendor Emerald Waste Services. In the process, the city had raised the cost to collect trash from Williston’s four school sites from $2,673 per month to $6,555 per month, coming to an annual cost of almost $79,000, an increase of about $46,000 more than last year.

Hastings said he expected waste collection in Williston, with more school sites than any other city in Levy County, to cost proportionately more than in cities like Chiefland and Bronson, with three and two school sites respectively. However, Chiefland pays $30,432 per year for three sites, about $10,000 per school, and Bronson pays $14,400 per year for two sites, about $7,000 per school. Extrapolated over four schools, the annual total under these systems would be closer to $30,000 or $40,000, about half what Williston is charging.

Board member Beth Davis of Cedar Key asked if the district couldn’t contract with Bronson’s waste services provider to add Williston to its routes, but Hastings explained that Williston schools receive trash pickup services as part of bulk-billed city services, along with water and sewer.

“Even if we collected the garbage ourselves, they’d still bill us $79,000.”

Hastings said he had contacted Emerald’s vice president Bob Shires to discuss solutions, but was told only that the district needed to consolidate its dumpsters (which are owned by the district), alter its pickup frequency and recycle more.

“I understand that costs are going up and fees to dump garbage are going up, but an increase like this is just unreasonable,” he said.

Board chair Frank Etheridge, the member for Williston, said district administrators need to speak directly with the parties involved – Emerald and the city of Williston.

“We need to deal with this the way we deal with any other issue – by sitting down around the bargaining table, talking diplomatically and negotiating. Then we’ll decide who’s going to provide our services.”

Hastings said that he had contacted Williston City Manager Marcus Collins, Finance Director Mark Schiefer and Mayor Gerald Hethcoat in an attempt to negotiate the fee, but had been rebuffed. He said the school district’s finance director Bob Clemons had also written a letter to Collins protesting the size of the increase, but to date had received no response. Hastings said Clemons had also asked Collins and Hethcoat whether Emerald had submitted the lowest bid for waste collection services, and said Clemons was told twice that Emerald had submitted the “best” bid, later clarified as a bid that included the purchase of Williston’s own waste-collection equipment, for which the city had no further use.

Regarding Hastings’ and Clemons’ efforts, Etheridge said stronger measures were needed.

“Sometimes a phone call won’t do it,” he said.

“Sometimes you just need to sit down around a table and talk about it.”