The Wadesboro Town Council held a special meeting on Thursday to discuss its dwindling budget and investigate options to modify trash collection to cut costs.
The board agreed that trash collection should be reduced to one day a week for most areas in order to save money. The size and number of allowable trashcans per household, and the problem of businesses that produce a lot of waste, presented more of an issue.
The proposed plan was that each household paid a $15 rate to have up to four 32-gallon trash cans emptied once a week. Uptown pickup times would be reduced from five times a week to three. Businesses would have the option to pay a fee to allow up to six 32-gallon cans.
The board could not agree on the size of the can as it tried to find an option that both citizens and sanitation workers would like. Sanitation employees had apprised Town Manager Alex Sewell before the meeting that they prefer to pick up the 32-gallon cans rather than larger ones because it is easier on their backs, reducing injury and workers’ comp. Board member Bobby Usrey asked Sewell to see if 96-gallon cans, which bags would be lifted from rather than dumped out of, would also be acceptable.
Some board members also expressed concern that trash can lids would not be properly returned to the cans and would blow about residents’ yards. Councilman Fred Davis also requested that cans smaller than 32 gallons be allowed so that single residents who do not have much waste and elderly or disabled residents don’t have to drag a larger can to the street.
Although the town verbally agreed on the one-day per week pickup, no formal decision was reached for the size and number of trash cans allowed. Sewell will talk to town sanitation employees to find the pros and cons of 32- and 96-gallon trash cans. Any changes to sanitation regulations and pick-up will likely go into effect by July 1.
The sanitation changes are just part of the town’s effort to recover its damaged budget. Sewell presented the council with a five-year spending history to illustrate the town’s poor financial health.
In Fiscal Year 2009-10, the town had a fund balance of $2.7 million. In FY 10-11, it dropped slightly to $2.6 million. The downward trend has continued more drastically, leaving the town with an estimated $1.8 million fund balance for FY 13-14 and an estimated $1.4 million for FY 14-15.
Increasing material and utility fees have hit the town hard, as have rising personnel costs in the form of workers’ comp, health insurance, salaries and other items. Capital expense projects, grant commitments (such as Lewis Street and GrowGreen) and a donation for the new county animal shelter have also made an impact. As Sewell put it bluntly, “The town doesn’t have the revenue to continue its current level of service.”
The town has implemented several cost-cutting measures, but it has been too little too late. “Even though we cut costs, the costs of things that really matter — material, health insurance, and other items — are going up,” Sewell said.
Matters aren’t likely to improve anytime soon. Expenditures have remained fairly steady over the last few years, though revenues have been largely stagnant or declining. The end of the Internet sweepstakes businesses alone cost the town an approximate $60,000 annually in taxes, and ABC revenue is down. With the hospital moving to a new location on county utility lines, the town will lose water and sewer revenues from it, as well. Even recent rains have cost the town money, as the water leaks into its sewage pipes and is treated at the water treatment plant at the town’s expense.
Additionally, a declining population slowly erodes at the customer base, according to Sewell. Without new industrial and population growth, the county’s population ages and declines, leaving steadily fewer customers left to pay for water, sewer, sanitation and other services. The town is then left to either absorb the cost, which it cannot afford, or raise service fees, which many customers also cannot afford.
Sewell used an online calculator to provide a visual. Based on the town’s average income and population, the calculator showed that for water and sewer revenues, the town is in the red for cost recovery but also for affordability. As Sewell put it, the town is “stuck between a rock and a hard place,” unable to make money or raise costs to recoup expenses.
This “perfect storm” of factors have prompted the town to look for ways to cut costs. As it is losing money in the water and sewer funds, the council is investigating options to cut costs for those services, as well. Sewell will continue to look at and present budget options during upcoming meetings.
The town’s next regular meeting will be May 5 at 5 p.m. at the town hall.