COVINGTON -- City of Covington sanitation customers will soon see an increase in their monthly bills due to an increase in costs for the city to grind and haul yard debris.
Following a fire last week at the city's recycling center on Turner Street resulting from mulch that combusted due to high temperatures, the city was informed by the Environmental Protection Division that it needs to reduce the amount of yard debris at the site.
The city will be getting a notice of violation from the EPD for not meeting a requirement to get 60 percent of what it picks up out of the center within 90 days of pick up for recycling, reuse or to be sold. EPD and city officials will be sitting down to discuss plans to meet that requirement in the near future, City Manager Steve Horton told the council.
Deputy City Manager and Public Works Director Billy Bouchillon said the council has three options. One is to keep service as it is, with weekly pick-up, and increase customers' bills by $3, or $1.50 for senior citizens. The increase is due to additional expenses that will be incurred by the city because it will now have to grind yard debris into mulch more regularly, Bouchillon said. Currently, the city grinds about once every eight months. It will need to be done at least quarterly now to meet the EPD requirement. There will also be extra cost resulting from charges of hauling to and dumping the debris at an inert landfill, or the Newton County landfill or biofuel operation will accept clean wood chips for burning.
The other options are to reduce pick up to where each customer would only get service once a month instead of once a week, which would save the city $150,000, or only pick up yard debris on an as-needed, pay as you throw basis.
Councilman Chris Smith said he worries that reducing pick up to once per month would result in city streets being cluttered and that he also doesn't want to take away the service.
"It seems like we're taking so many things away from the people that live in the city of Covington ... if we keep taking everything away, what's going to be the advantage of living in the city of Covington?" he said.
Horton noted that, "the service has got to be what it's worth. Right now the operation doesn't break even."
So far, 250 truckloads of mulch and yard debris have been hauled from the center and Bouchillon said he expects it will take a total of 500 truckloads to clear the property and cost the city about $100,000.
The city picks up between 1,300 and 1,800 truck loads of debris annually, then grinds it into mulch, which the public can pick up for free. "The demand from the public is nowhere near to equaling our supply of materials coming in," Horton said.
The council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance to raise the rates by $3, and $1.50 for seniors age 65 and older. Council members Mike Whatley and Janet Goodman were absent. The final reading is scheduled for the council's Aug. 6 meeting.