When the hour finally arrived for Haywood County commissioners to vote on a budget for the upcoming year, Haywood County Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick expressed his wish for a unanimous vote. That’s exactly what he got.
But that 5-0 victory for the budget came in spite of Commissioner Skeeter Curtis stating outright that he would vote against the budget just a minute prior.
Curtis’s dissent stemmed from a controversial plan to overhaul the county’s trash and recycling operations in order to save money.
Both Curtis and Kirkpatrick opposed one aspect of that plan — a move to privatize the county’s 10 convenience centers, where county residents without curbside trash pick-up dump household waste and recyclables.
However, all five commissioners agreed on another part of the overhaul: shutting down the line of workers who manually sort recycling before it is sold. Instead, the county will sell recyclables in bulk without putting them through a pick line.
Other than the contentious trash overhaul, Haywood County’s budget — which does not include a tax hike — sailed by this year.
Not a single person spoke for or against the budget at the official public hearing, even though more than 40 people attended. Speakers saved all their remarks for a separate public comment period on the trash overhaul.
“I’d hate to be having a split vote on the budget, based on the (trash issue),” said Kirkpatrick. “I really want to see the budget passed with five votes.”
Commissioner Kevin Ensley moved to approve the budget, with a second from Commissioner Mark Swanger. After an uncomfortable pause, Curtis said he would not vote to contract out jobs at convenience centers.
Kirkpatrick tried his final appeal, reminding Curtis that the solid waste changes are a relatively small part of a $65 million budget. Kirkpatrick added that the board had until August to amend the solid waste fee that have been proposed.
“You’re right,” said Curtis. “It’s a good budget. Everyone worked hard on it.”
Split vote on convenience centers
While all five commissioners voted to pass the budget, Curtis and Kirkpatrick got a chance later in the meeting to formally oppose privatizing jobs at the convenience centers. Commissioners voted three to two to contract those jobs at the county’s ten convenience centers to Consolidated Waste Services, LLC.
Commissioner Bill Upton, along with Swanger and Ensley, voted for the measure, touting the cost savings of $145,000 it would bring to the county. Closing the recycling pick line would bring an additional savings of $286,000.
But Kirkpatrick and Curtis voted against awarding the contract, with Curtis hoping to further study the issue with all stakeholders and Kirkpatrick hoping to postpone the layoffs. A few of the employees were close to retirement, and many had been supportive of the county’s wildly successful recycling efforts.
“I would hope there’s a way to take care of these folks,” said Kirkpatrick.
The contract that was approved does say that CWS should make a “reasonable effort” to hire the current county employees who currently man the convenience centers.
Swanger added that phasing out the soon to be retired employees in a fair manner would likely take a long time.
“The more I think about it, I’m on both sides,” added Upton. “And I know you can’t be on both sides.”
Both Swanger and Upton had served in a solid waste task force that carefully researched the issue. The county appointed a solid waste task force to come up with cost savings in light of the $4.5 million landfill expansion that taxpayers must now pay off.
Due to the landfill expansion, residents will see a $22 increase in the $70 household solid waste fee — but that’s compared to a $40 dollar increase residents would see if not for the cost-saving measures.
Curtis and Kirkpatrick had wanted to hike up the household solid waste fee by $40, which — along with supporting the landfill — would also include $4.50 per household to save the convenience center employees’ jobs, while $13.50 would be dedicated to saving up for eventually closing the White Oak landfill decades from now.
The bill for complying with regulations with the closure of White Oak would come out to a whopping $16.6 million in “2009 dollars.”
“We need to start putting money aside for closure,” said Curtis. “We’re talking about big dollars for future generations out there.”
Kirkpatrick said $110 really isn’t a lot of money, coming out to $10 a month to get rid of all household trash and recycling.
A third part of the trash overhaul, which would be a year away, is to close the transfer station, where town trash trucks and private haulers unload trash. From there, the county hauls it the rest of the way to the White Oak landfill.
At the meeting, commissioners agreed to solicit bids for privatizing the landfill, transfer station and convenience centers — solely for educational purposes.