By MIKE WILLIAMS
The Town of Pulaski has officially notified the Pulaski County Public Service Authority that, as of June 1, it will no longer collect the PSA’s garbage payments on town utility bills.
At Tuesday’s meeting of Pulaski Town Council, PSA Director Jared Linkous asked council to “please reconsider” the action.
Discussions between the town and PSA concerning garbage pickup, the pickup of large or “bulk” items and the town’s collection of PSA garbage fees have been ongoing since last fall.
In a recent letter from Town Manager Darlene Burcham to Linkous, Burcham said the possibility of the town’s terminating the agreement had been discussed with council and “they concur that it is in the town’s best interest to terminate the agreement.”
According to Burcham, the 2002 agreement between the town and PSA provides that either party may cancel the agreement by a 90-day written notice.
“Accordingly, this letter will serve as notice that the town will discontinue the billing service on behalf of the PSA effective June 1, 2022,” Burcham wrote.
“Citizens have grown increasingly vocal about not getting responses from the PSA and they call us because they pay us for garbage,” Burcham said after Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s created a workload for the staff in addition to billing – answering and responding to those questions. It’s difficult to explain to some people if they want to come in and just pay their water and sewer bill, that they have to pay the whole bill in order to have it (water) reconnected. The agreement, which was discussed by council, required a 90-day notice, we gave considerably more than that.
“We field questions all the time. Why hasn’t my garbage been collected? We think we need to be held responsible for what we are responsible for, and garbage is not one of those decisions. We just think it is a better situation if they are responsible for the bill collection,” she continued.
Burcham acknowledged the town collecting the garbage bill makes it easier for the PSA.
“It makes it easier for them on the collection side and the accountability side and I perfectly understand his (Linkous’) reasons for wanting this to continue. I hope people also understand our reasons for feeling like it should be placed with the entity that is responsible,” she said.
Burcham told Linkous in one letter, “the 5 percent rebate for collection services for the PSA does not begin to cover the number of hours that staff take trying to respond to questions regarding trash collection, the PSA holiday schedule, complaints over no return calls, in addition to being blamed for increases over which we have no control.”
She said collecting the PSA fees puts the town in an uncomfortable role that often times “shields the PSA from criticism.”
In one of her letters to the PSA, Burcham offered ways in which the town could assist the PSA in the transition.
She said the town can supply the PSA with utility customer data as well as regular updates of any changes.
The town, she said, would pass out to town water and sewer customers forms – provided by the PSA – and advise them of the need to use the form to register for garbage collection service with the PSA.
“If the PSA will pay the additional cost of production and insertion of their form into future town water bills, the town will arrange for the forms’ placement in the February or March bill,” she wrote.
She also suggested the PSA minimize travel for Pulaski customers by establishing a site in the town for Pulaski residents to return their PSA signup forms. She suggested Linkous’ office in the County Administration Building.
Nancy Burchett, Vice Chairman of the PSA Board of Directors, addressed council and provided a history of the billing service contract between the PSA and the town.
Burchett worked for Pulaski County for over 30 years and was directly involved in the creation of the billing service agreement.
“We have concerns moving forward about the impacts that we may have down the line for us, the town and its citizens,” she told council. “We’ve had experiences with the PSA doing the billing for citizens in the town, and the contract came about due to some of those experiences.”
Burchett said that at the time the agreement began, town officials were looking for ways to reduce expenditures and sources for new revenue. They approached the county on possible ways that intergovernmental services might be achieved to save money.
She said a committee was formed to study the situation, and a proposal for the town to bill and collect PSA garbage bills from town residential customers was agreed to.
Burchett explained the town receives a minimum of $30,000 annually or 5 percent of the total PSA collections for the year, whichever is greater for handling the billing.
“That was new revenue for the town without any added expenditures,” she noted.
Last year, Burchett said, the town received from PSA about $38,000. For this year, PSA budget projections estimate it around $42,000.
“Prior to the agreement, there had been complaints from town customers about receiving two bills for utilities – one monthly bill from the town for water and sewer and a quarterly bill from the PSA for garbage. The agreement made it more convenient and less confusing for town customers to pay just one bill from the town for all of it,” Burchett said.
She noted that prior to the agreement, PSA staff were struggling with billing and collecting for garbage service from town customers. Problems were encountered when town customers did not notify the PSA office when they moved, and the PSA office was not advised when a new customer needed to be billed because new customers were not completing PSA service agreement forms. Plus, PSA delinquencies for town customers experienced continual non-payment from quarterly billings to the next – even though delinquent letters were being sent, liens were being taken and all other possible means were being taken to collect the delinquent amounts.
“But for customers with no written PSA service agreement – and there were many of them – legal action was not possible,” Burchett told council.
“The agreement solved the issue of accountability (everyone was paying for the garbage that was picked up). All customers would be billed and garbage picked up,” Burchett said.
She said the agreement also provides an effective method for collecting delinquent accounts with cutoff of water service by the town for non-payment of the bill.
She said the PSA realized a savings in mailing costs since they would no longer be billing out quarterly garbage bills to town resident customers.
At the time of the agreement, it was considered a “win-win for everyone,” she said.
“At the time of our receiving the cancellation letter from the town, the PSA board or staff was not aware of any issues mentioned in the letter. So, we would like to have an opportunity to address those and hopefully resolve those issues.
“The board respectfully requests that you reconsider your decision to terminate the agreement,” she asked.
Linkous explained the PSA’s possible difficulties collecting from some rental customers should the town end the agreement. “Collection efforts for PSA garbage bills is successful because of the town’s ability to cut off water service for nonpayment of the bill. Without that it could be difficult,” he said, because town customers must pay the entire bill, including the garbage portion.
“Without that we would have to take measures to determine who is paying and who is not,” Linkous said, noting that typically that means issuing waste cans to customers, which he said would drive up costs for everyone.
He explained how the cans would have a code on them by which the garbage truck crew could scan to determine whether the customer had paid their bill.
He said the initial expense of purchasing cans could be several hundred thousands of dollars.
Linkous warned of negative impacts for the town and PSA if there is a change in billing.
“At the end of day, it is going to be negative impacts to PSA, to town customers, through rate increases and reduced service and we fill like there will be negative impacts for town staff receiving complaints from folks who aren’t getting trash picked up for non-payment. The town won’t get $42,000 for billing services. It really feels like a lose-lose for everyone involved.
“We’d just ask again that you please, please reconsider termination of the contract,” Linkous said.
Following the presentation, Mayor Shannon Collins told Linkous and Burchett that council would consider their comments.