Two weeks after prosing the idea, the Bayou la Batre Utilities Board voted 3-2 to turn the collection of garbage service fees back over to the city.
The utilities board has collected fees on behalf of Bayou la Batre for the past seven years, but recent turmoil between the two entities caused the board to shift those responsibilities back to city hall on May 13.
City Council members George Ramirez and Kimberlyn Barbour, who also serve on the board, voted against transferring the fee collection to the city, but the motion was carried by votes from Sylvia Raley, Louis Hard and Deborah Marchand.
In last week’s Lagniappe, Mayor Brett Dungan said he encountered general disarray in bookkeeping for garbage services and couldn’t find a database of which citizens had garbage cans. Raley, chairman of the utilities board, said those comments and similar questions from city council members led to the initial discussion of ceasing garbage fee collections.
“There were remarks made at meetings and through audio we listened to, and they thought we were not giving them all their garbage money,” Raley said. “There’s no way to do that. It goes into the system just like our water bills, but they still think we’re not doing it right.”
Other than Dungan, Raley didn’t specify who made the alleged remarks, but council member Annette Johnson has proposed a complete inventory of the city’s cans because the council found the “monies coming in didn’t balance with the number of cans the city was providing.”
She has since apologized for any misunderstanding and said she wasn’t accusing the staff of misconduct or negligence.
“We were only asking for a reconciliation of the number of cans,” she said at a May 9 council meeting. “If there were waivers involved because of senior status, we weren’t aware. I highly trust all of the ladies collecting our funds.”
Raley, who ran against Dungan in the mayoral race, said the city and board have always worked well together until the current admiration — claiming the board had been slandered and “just couldn’t work with them.”
She added the board was a completely separate entity from the city, and only collaborates with the council and mayor for appointments and grant funding.
“If we keep collecting the fees, there’s still going to be an issue of them believing we’re not giving them all the money,” she said. “Now they can look and see.”
Dungan said the next morning that garbage collection has been working smoothly for a number of years, calling the utilities board’s actions silly and detrimental.
“It appears to me these five people have allowed themselves to be consumed by hatred for the mayor and are taking vengeance out on the citizens of the town,” he said. “I predict you’re going to see people that fail to pay their fees, trash being dumped in back yards and people burning trash illegally. It’s going to set the city back 10 years.”
Raley said citizens wouldn’t be impacted aside from a change in location for payments, which as of June will be made at Bayou la Batre City Hall.
“You already have to set your service up at city hall and they distribute the cans,” she said. “I don’t see what the difference is. We can’t cut their water off for them not paying their garbage fees.”
City Hall currently employs more staff than the utilities board, which Raley suggested makes them very equipped to handle the additional task of collecting garbage fees.
“I don’t know that we’ll actually save money, maybe time and efficiency on our utilities,” Raley said.
Ary Sprinkle, who is employed by the board, said she and her coworkers only spend about an hour each month following up on delinquent garbage fees.
As for the comments that sparked the controversy, Dungan said the utilities board is hearing what they want to hear and claims the database set up for cans didn’t have anything to do the board’s fee collection.
“We didn’t have an adequate database of garbage cans,” he said. “When someone would die, we didn’t pick up the can. People would move it somewhere else and be getting free garbage. It was representative of how we found things. We inherited a city in disarray.”
Dungan said the issue is still premature, but the City Council will address the new developments at its next meeting, May 22.