Commissioners Recycle Solid Waste Negotiations Yet Again

By Leslee Kulba

Commissioner Mike Fryar mentioned that a local WastePro worker, Cody Gillespie, had fallen off the back of a truck and been killed. He asked Chair Brownie Newman to invite members of the public to pray for his family, and Newman added the suggestion to the moment of silence he dedicated for all who have ever served in the military.

Fryar also asked if the discussion on Strategic Partnership Grants could be postponed so the frail elderly citizens who showed up to complain about not having an affordable option for getting their trash to the curb under the county’s new contract with WastePro would not have to wait four hours. Newman replied that the opportunity to make the change had already passed when the agenda was approved.

At the request of Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the floor was opened for public comment.
At the request of Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the floor was opened for public comment.

As planned, Director of Strategic Partnerships Rachael Nygaard re-reviewed proposed policy revisions. The changes address complaints that certain community leaders know how to work the system, and some seem to monopolize available funds. More generally, though, the commissioners were trying to address the age-old problem of how free money always leaves somebody feeling left-out.

Most commissioners had something good to say about the new policy. It proposed things like requiring organizations to have been operating for at least two years, limiting funding to projects, and capping funding at three years and 30% of an organization’s budget. Other measures would impose greater accountability on organizations receiving public funds. The sticking points that remained concerned how funding should be distributed geographically and whether or not an unelected board was the proper body to vet disbursements.

At the request of Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the floor was opened for public comment. It wasn’t real public comment, because, practically, only the people within the chambers or watching on TV somewhere close like Pack’s Tavern could talk. Without advertising to the general public, once again, the commissioners set themselves up to hear one-sided arguments – compounding the normal systematic bias introduced by people wanting a large amount of money being more inclined to show up to meetings than those paying a fraction of a cent for it in taxes.

That said, only four people spoke, two of whom are regulars with opinions on everything. Robin Merrill of Pisgah Legal Services objected to the concept of funding projects. Her organization provides legal defense for the poor, and there is no way she can work herself out of a job helping people with problems that have persisted and will persist through history. Commissioner Amanda Edwards suggested substituting “program” for “project.”

Regular Jerry Rice asked for the story behind the story, as it was ridiculous for the commissioners to spend such an exorbitant amount of time on the $1-2 million they give just once a year to Strategic Partners while habitually blowing “millions on the consent agenda.” Noting all the buzzwords in the conversations, he said, “It’s about as political as you get when you spend this much time on nonprofits.”

Eventually, the commissioners got around to talking about the WastePro contract. Many commented on how nicely the process was playing out. Citizens would complain to the commissioners, who would relay word to staff, who would, in turn, negotiate a solution with WastePro.

The main problem is WastePro is trying to run an urban system in the country, with narrow, winding roads and long driveways. A lot of complaints the commissioners have been receiving have come from people who, for example, don’t need a huge cart, can’t roll one half a mile to the road, and don’t want to pay extra for service that hasn’t cost premium rates in the past.

To this, WastePro opened 700 slots on a first-come basis to persons at least 65 years old, earning under 150% of the poverty line or on public assistance, having no able-bodied person living in the household, and having to carry the can down a difficult driveway. These slots would be for people who don’t qualify for a doctor’s notice, which would avail them to backdoor service at no additional charge.

For the benefit of those who weren’t at the commissioners’ pre-meeting, Commissioner Robert Pressley said WastePro estimated only 350 people would need the service, but they would inform the commissioners if the number did creep up toward 700. Fryar said the commissioners needed to find a way to pay for helping citizens get trash to the curb. He said if they were willing to spend money on solar, they should be willing to spend it on people.

Other changes offered an opportunity to lease a bear-resistant roll-cart rather than buying one for $300. Another option would be to trade-in existing bear-resistant carts for a lower rental rate. Speaking during public comment, George Trowbridge shared a secret. He said putting ammonia in the cans keeps bears away better than any rigging he has tried.

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