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AP, LP may truck trash to Okeechobee Commissioners don't object

SEBRING - It was over in a few minutes. Instead of objecting, reducing tipping fees at Highlands County landfill, or asking Avon Park and Lake Placid to stay, the commissioners bid adieu Tuesday to Julian Deleon.

Last month, Town Administrator Phil Williams said he has a contract to truck Lake Placid's trash to a private landfill in Okeechobee, and Deleon informed the Avon Park council he was studying the same issue.

An agenda sheet stated that the two municipalities paid $419,000 to the county. Commissioner Don Elwell said the two municipalities add about 10 percent of the total annual garbage at the landfill.

Deleon, Avon Park's city manager, asked the county to submit any issues or objections in writing so he could present them along with a contract to the city council.

"It's a financial issue," County Attorney Ross Macbeth responded at Tuesday's county commission meeting. "It is not something that is prohibited by statue."

Lake Placid has "not let us know their final decision. They do have a contract," with Waste Management of Okeechobee, County Administrator June Fisher said. "It was really their option in that contract as to whether they use it or not."

At the meeting, Deleon did not say whether Avon Park will stay or whether it will go to Okeechobee. However, he commended the commissioners for thinking about municipal tipping fees.

"We have not done a rate study in several years," Elwell said.

"A rate study is long overdue," Deleon said. He recommended his former Palm Beach college professor, John Booth, for a steering committee, as well as the county's current garbage hauler, Choice Environmental Services. "You've got a lot of talent there."

"I don't begrudge anybody for looking out on the part of their citizens." Commissioner Don Elwell pointed out that the municipalities will encounter additional fuel and equipment costs. "But if those numbers work out better for them, that's fine."

Avon Park is entertaining the idea of a transfer station so they can also accept Hardee County trash, Elwell said he had heard.

Waste Management of Okeechobee may build a transfer station, Deleon emailed Highlands Today after the meeting, "where our trucking costs would be literally eliminated; in addition, other stakeholders may use our transfer station facility.

"Avon Park would charge a small hosting fee for others to use our transfer station," Deleon offered. "It could be as low as $2/ton for the use of our transfer station. No decision is final until the city council considers the staff recommendation. I believe that the Okeechobee option will allow the city to drastically drop garbage rates."

"If they want to save money for their citizens, I don't see that we have a lot of room to move," Commissioner Ron Handley said. "It's somewhat of a disappointment that they are thinking about going elsewhere, though."

"Looking at contracting with Waste Management of Okeechobee is no different than anything else that we have explored. We look for efficiency and value for Avon Park ratepayers," Deleon wrote. "During my tenure at the city, we have repeatedly contracted services. We contracted part of our law enforcement services with the county sheriff, saving taxpayers about $500,000 annually. We have contracted right-of-way maintenance and mowing to the department of corrections, saving us $400,000 in staffing costs. We have contracted recycling with Republic Services Inc., which has led to two consecutive residential rate reductions in residential. Our garbage rates have been reduced from $20/month to $16/month in less than two years. We have implemented best management practices in keeping water weight out, in offering cardboard dumpsters to our business community, in our recycling system. In 2008, our tipping fees averaged over $400,000 per year. Today, we are at $280,000 per year."

"We have to adjust like everybody else," Commissioner Jack Richie said. However, he encouraged county administrators to take a look as to what we are charging."

"It makes me wonder if we ought to be in the landfill business at all." Maybe, Commissioner Greg Harris, asked other commissioners, Highlands County ought to consider leasing or selling the landfill.

The commissioners also approved job descriptions and pay grade changes requested by Parks and Natural Resources Director Vicki Pontius and Emergency Medical Services Director Harvey Craven.