Augusta committee OKs broad review of solid waste department

Augusta’s Environmental Services Department is headed under the microscope.

 

A city committee Tuesday approved the recommendation of City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson to hire an outside firm to perform a “programmatic, operations and financial review” of the department, with the option of adding a forensic audit if the firm deems it necessary.

The 4-0 decision follows a March incident in which two landfill workers admitted taking government equipment to work on private property in Lincoln County. Their supervisor, former Director Mark Johnson, resigned after admitting he directed them to do the work.

The commission also may sue the property owner, former landfill contractor Troy Meeks, for the free labor and equipment. A worksheet distributed to commissioners Tuesday put the price of former solid waste manager McKinley Williams’ and machine operator Robert Wilson’s labor, plus seven days’ lease of a Ford F-350, trailer and excavator at $6,495.

The comprehensive review will look at more than equipment and person hours, however. Jackson said it will look at Environmental Services’ existing contracts, including the massive waste collection contract Johnson put in place in 2013 when garbage pickup shifted from twice to once a week, and other issues.

That contract includes the hefty charge, currently triple the retail price, for compressed natural gas that all Augusta waste haulers and subcontracted haulers are required to pay to fuel their garbage trucks that Commissioner Marion Williams questioned Tuesday. Jackson said the review will evaluate the impact of the rate, which haulers “don’t feel is fair to them.”

Besides being a CNG supplier, operating the landfill and collecting garbage and recycling, the department has taken on street sweeping and building demolitions in recent years.

Jackson said Deputy Environmental Services Director Lori Videtto, whom the commission made interim director Tuesday, faces the challenging of having three vacant managerial positions under her, while Johnson’s push last year for a rate hike indicates “tough choices” may be necessary to determine which services are vital.

Commissioner Sean Frantom, who previously opposed seeking an audit, said he agreed with the decision after learning the review’s scope and receiving a report regarding a sub-hauler.

In other business, committees held off on deciding whether to grant an alcohol license to a grocery in Maxwell House apartments after two residents said the Greene Street complex is already plagued by illness, substance abuse and violence residents. Members also agreed with Mayor Hardie Davis’ push to add a James Brown exhibit at Augusta Regional Airport, make the area between Eighth and Ninth streets the “James Brown Heritage Trail” and adorn the sidewalks of James Brown Boulevard with images of Brown’s greatest hits.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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