Sweeping changes to Augusta Environmental Services, including the addition of a Keep Augusta Beautiful chapter and the elimination of the Recycling Perks program, were approved by a commission committee Tuesday.
City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson and interim Environmental Services Director Lori Videtto presented the changes as part of a departmental review being done ahead of an upcoming operational and financial study.
Videtto took over after the departure of former director Mark Johnson, who resigned in June amid a scandal involving his staffers’ use of government equipment on private land in Lincoln County.
Since then, the department has inventoried all equipment and vehicles, installed GPS monitoring devices on appropriate vehicles and developed policies for the interdepartmental loaning of equipment to help “ensure recent events are not repeated,” Jackson said.
They proposed a vision that includes a “focus on core competencies,” including the removal of garbage and keeping city-owned landfill sustainable. Proposed changes include moving mosquito control, vacant lot clearing, demolition and street sweeping to other departments.
“What we do best is garbage,” Videtto said.
Keeping one of Georgia’s largest municipal solid waste landfills sustainable could include reducing its reliance on two large haulers – Advanced Disposal and Waste Management – which currently make up 53 percent of landfill revenue.
“Flow control” means any waste generated in Augusta must go to the Augusta landfill and can shore up the landfill revenue stream, Videtto said.
Also under consideration is Augusta’s rigid rate structure that gives volume discounts to haulers of large amounts of trash, which Jackson said smaller haulers claimed was unusual and put them at a steep disadvantage.
The “Recycling Perks” program is going away Dec. 31 if the Engineering Services committee motion passed Tuesday receives full commission approval next week.
The incentive system, implemented in 2012 when Augusta changed to once-weekly garbage and recycling pickup, awards coupons or makes charitable donations when a consumer pushes a recycling bin to the curb. Equipment on garbage trucks was said to read each can as it is emptied.
But the system costs Augusta $273,806 annually and interest appears to have waned, Jackson said. She said the city would take steps to ensure the system’s sunset date gave customers time to use their points.
Jackson and Videtto said Tuesday they didn’t know how many customers used the system. In 2014, the city reported only about 2,200 of some 70,000 households had enrolled.
Commissioners voiced no complaints about eliminating the program, but had some doubts about Jackson’s proposal to establish a Keep Augusta Beautiful program, which she raised in the spring.
Commissioner Ben Hasan, who cast the committee’s sole “no” vote, said he did not think its intended staff of three new employees was needed.
“If you’ve got to hire three people, I can’t support it,” Hasan said.
Jackson said consumers and residents are largely unaware of Augusta’s garbage and maintenance rules and regulations, and that other departments – Engineering and Utilities – could help fund the program.
Whether it’s recycling, garbage, littering or tire disposal, “the education component is something we are lacking,” Videtto said.
Commissioner Marion Williams seemed to agree Augustans need education on keeping the city cleaner.
“In parts of this community, we’ve got more trash on the ground than we’ve got in the cans,” he said. “Our community should be kept where we don’t allow them to live like that.”
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