MOBILE – The city doesn’t have enough working garbage trucks currently to cover routes effectively, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said during a discussion of the proposed 2016 budget Tuesday afternoon.
During a meeting of the Mobile City Council’s finance committee, Cooper said a problem with trucks breaking down is “an epidemic” and only nine trucks are available because of it.
“That’s not even a fraction of the solution,” Cooper said. “We need a 35-truck fleet.”
Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said part of the problem can be attributed to money — on “three separate occasions” since 2001 — being taken out of the motor pool, which helps pay for vehicles and maintenance.
He said for years the city took money out of department budgets and put it into the motor pool. Wesch said the act of taking motor pool money out of department budgets began again regularly with the fiscal year 2015 budget.
When asked by Councilman Levon Manzie, Cooper said the administration’s plan to deal with the problem would be to “right size” the motor pool and hire more mechanics who can work on the trucks.
“We’ll have to take some action on the personnel side,” Cooper said.
The solid waste personnel line item in the fiscal year General Fund budget proposal was reduced by about $175,000 and the operating line item for trash was reduced by about $680,000 compared to fiscal year 2015 projected actuals.
Councilors said they’ve noticed a problem because of complaints they’ve received related to delays in garbage pickup. Councilman John Williams floated the idea of privatizing the city’s garbage pickup service.
Council Vice President Fred Richardson said he’s been told the failure to purchase new garbage trucks is a deliberate act by the administration to bring about privatization. He told other councilors the city should purchase garbage trucks, instead of spending “$3 million” on soccer fields.
“This is the man, who voted to give $1.5 million to the county,” Williams said, referencing a majority vote during the last budget cycle to give the county money to support a soccer complex near Hank Aaron Stadium.
Williams and Councilman Joel Daves voted against overriding a Stimpson veto of the proposal.
Councilman C.J. Small said Tuesday he only voted to support the soccer complex because County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood gave $1 million to $2 million to help complete a portion of the Ann Street reconstruction in his district. Earlier this year, the council approved about $750,000 for new turf soccer fields at Herndon Park in Richardson’s district.
Richardson proposed using $4.7 million the city is set to receive from a settlement with BP, which hasn’t been budgeted, as part of the funding for new garbage trucks. He also proposed adding $2.9 million, of a $4.6 million surplus from last year’s budget and $1.6 million due from the state to purchase some of the needed trucks.
The city’s capital budget does include about $200,000 in public works equipment, which is a decrease of about $550,000 compared to last year’s proposal. There is also $200,000 in a public works projects line item, included in the capital budget.
In contrast, the proposal aims to spend $3.2 million on 100 new police vehicles.
“I know the importance of police cars, but we need these trucks,” Manzie said. “I’m getting a bunch of calls about garbage not being picked up.”
Wesch said the money set aside in the public works capital fund is not currently earmarked for a specific purpose.
In other council business from Tuesday, they approved a $150,000 agreement with Best Price Lawn Services for the cleaning of drainage ditches. The scope of work includes ditches starting at Good Street to Balthrop Street, Lauer Street to Toulmin Court Crossing and St. Stephens Road to Toulmin Spring Branch. Also from the Interstate 65 Service Road eastward to main drainage running parallel to the highway and from Eslava Creek South to Government Street, parallel to Barksdale Drive.
The Council also appointed John Browning to the Mobile Library Board and authorized Stimpson to sign a certificate approving bonds issued by AltaPointe Health Systems.