NOTE – This is the seventh part of a series published exclusively in the Jackson Parish Journal regarding the upcoming sales tax election. Over the next several weeks we will look at among other things: what a sales tax represents, how the tax is derived, why parish officials feel that an increase is needed, where the additional funds will be applied and when the new tax rate, if approved, will take effect. Today – A “Hard Dollar” look at the Solid Waste Department!
Over the past several weeks information in each edition has been provided about the upcoming Sales Tax election set for April 24th. This was done with the hopes that Jackson Parish residents could be informed with facts about the issue of whether a 1% increase in that tax is needed and not have to rely on gossip and rumors. Today we take a look at some “hard dollar” information regarding the operation of the Solid Waste Department including the revenues and expenses of the different areas involved. The information below has been submitted by the Jackson Parish Police Jury and is on public record.
The Police Jury reduced the millage for the Solid Waste Department by 1.09 mils in 2019 and again by an additional 1.58 mils in 2020.
Commercial garbage pickup to parish businesses is done at very affordable rates. When we polled other parishes on what they charge businesses, the overwhelming majority said they don’t provide this service. The ones that did charged anywhere from $180 to $250 for the same size bin as us (we charge $115.50). Those that charged less used a smaller bin. The standard rate that we got from a commercial business to provide the same service to the businesses was a minimum of $150/month. That would be the rate if they can dump at our transfer station, which if we have to start charging fees, this would likely increase as well.
The C&D Landfill for commercial garbage like debris, scrap metal, tires, etc. This is the primary function of the landfill. It provides a place for people to bring what would likely either have to be burned or just thrown into the woods. Especially after large storm events, this really helps to keep the parish roads clear. Things like shingles, tires, etc. would have to be hauled by residents to another parish. We also have a large commercial grinder that we use to grind down the piles of wood debris and we provide it to the papermill to be used for fuel. It is a small revenue stream, but it helps us maintain our capacity and is a good partnership with us and WestRock.
The transfer station and bin sites are an additional service that is crucial to keeping our parish clean and for being affordable to parish residents. All of the garbage from bin sites, businesses, and towns ends up at our transfer station. We load 18 wheelers with all of the garbage and truck it up to Union Parish to their landfill. This is an enormous cost and the Police Jury bears 100% of the burden. Although the towns pay a company for commercial pickup, we allow them to bring their garbage to our transfer station free of charge. We carry the burden for labor, equipment, and dumping fees at Union Parish. If our transfer station was not there, the towns would have to pay their commercial vendors to haul it out of parish and pay the disposal fees at the landfill. No business would do this at a loss, so that burden would be on the towns and ultimately, their residents. Parish residents would likely have to get a contract with a commercial vendor as well and they would set their own rates. Yes, this would mean door to door pickup throughout the parish, but it also means garbage cans all over the roads and a high volume of heavy load garbage trucks driving on our parish roads.
Several things have been done over the years to try to sustain the programs: We got into recycle at a time when the cost was mostly covered by the revenue received for recycling. Even after the revenues went down and it began to cost us more to recycle than to just dispose, the parish continued the program because it was the right thing to do. It was only in 2020 after we had seen an annual loss of over $100k just for having the program that the Police Jury suspended it. In addition to grinding wood in order to keep our current capacity, our department superintendent was even able to sell some of the soil from under the wood pile as fertilizer. This was innovation at its best. They are constantly seeking the best prices and trying to find ways to save money or generate what revenue they can.
The department has been operating at a net loss for years and years. Within the last five years, the deficit is anywhere from $200,000 – $475,000. This is not due to poor management, it is just an incredibly expensive operation to run. The annual sales tax revenues don’t even cover the cost of personnel and dumping fees in Union Parish. On top of those, we also have insurance, equipment costs (fuel, tires, etc.), repairs, and supplies. This deficit has been supplemented over the years by the general fund, but we are getting to the point where the general fund cannot continue to transfer hundreds of thousands year after year and maintain it’s own operation. The general fund has taken some very large cuts, especially with this year’s budget. Our revenues are down from COVID and we have had to decrease our assistance to local organizations like LSU Ag, Pinebelt, Trailblazer, etc. in order to balance the budget for the year. We have deferred maintenance projects and cut spending down to only the very basic services. There is also no budget for us to provide assistance to the municipalities for special road projects.
Priorities of where the additional money gained by the tax increase:
The first priority is to balance the fund. First and foremost, the solid waste department needs to bring in as much revenue as it costs to run it. At minimum, we could keep the operation going as-is, but we wouldn’t have any surplus in the event of equipment needs or for the future.
Landfill expansion: We have a capacity limit on our existing C&D Landfill and we will eventually run out of land. We have adjacent property that we have been looking at that would allow us to double our capacity and be set up for the future, but we do not currently have the funds to purchase it.
Completion of the final four model bin sites: There are four more model bin sites for the parish to construct that would eliminate the road side sites. The road side sites have no security and are typically the worst areas of the parish (think Walker Road). Each site would be approximately $300k – $500k to construct and once the program is finished we would have eliminated the last remaining 13 road side sites. Our bin sites are used throughout the state as the model and are a credit to our parish. DEQ and other parishes have been here multiple times to view various sites and adopt our program.
Equipment needs: we currently have one compact truck that is on it’s last few years of life. This will need to be replaced in the next couple of years and then run over $250k to purchase.
Any additional surplus: once all of this is dealt with, in the event that we do have remaining surplus (which wouldn’t be for years), the proposed sales tax does give us the flexibility to divert funds to road maintenance, and courthouse maintenance. Something that is not often talked about is the elevator in the courthouse. It is grandfathered in, but is not up to code. Some recent legislation will begin any day now where state inspectors will begin fining us for the elevator until we upgrade it. When we got a quote for this a couple years ago, the first stage of upgrades was over $200k. Things like this could be funded with any sales tax surplus.
In the next edition we will look at what is most likely to take place if the Sales Tax doesn’t pass.