MARY ANN ANDERSON
Most of last Monday night’s workshop and Thursday’s regular monthly meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council was spent discussing a 2018 contract with Ryland Environmental, a Dublin-based company that collects and disposes of solid waste.
The focus of the discussions is a letter dated Aug. 26 that Mayor Bayne Stone had received from L. Robert Lovett, a Macon attorney who represents Ryland. Lovett stated that the City is currently in breach of the contract.
Both the City and Jeff Davis County contracted jointly with Republic Services, who operates in 41 states, to take solid waste to the transfer station that it operates. A 2010 contract with Republic stated that it would have exclusive rights to dispose of all solid waste delivered to the transfer station.
When Ryland stepped in, its own contract in hand, to pick up the City’s waste beginning in 2018, the service never began because Republic raised its transfer station rates to Ryland from $32 a ton to $59 per ton. Ryland walked away, but not before providing trash carts to city residents and businesses. Neither the City nor Ryland has pursued performing the contract since then, which City Attorney Ken W. Smith called “mutual abandonment of the contract,” which would not be a breach of contract.
“Neither side has ever done anything in the performance of the contract,” he said during Monday’s meeting, adding, “And we didn’t hold their feet to the fire.”
Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay said the City would be “foolish” to not go ahead and begin the contract with Ryland, who Lovett pointed out in his letter would begin waste services as of Sept. 1. Ramay said, among other benefits, that having Ryland operate waste pickup would eliminate the expense and essentially the headache of city-owned trash trucks. But as of this week, that still hasn’t happened. Stone countered Ramay, also using the word “foolish,” to do it since he believes the City doesn’t have the contract.
Another issue, said Ward 1’s Dywane Johnson, is that the City wouldn’t be able to “control” what Ryland charges to the citizens and businesses for trash pick-up, adding, “They go up and up and up, and you try to get them to bring it down, and they won’t.”
During Thursday night’s meeting, which James Lanier of Ryland attended, Smith pointed out that the City had received an invoice from Ryland for more than $100,000 for trashcan rental, although there was nothing in the contract whatsoever about can rental.
Smith also said that the joint abandonment of the contract meant it was null and void, with the mayor confirming, “We don’t have a contract as of today. We will need a new one.”
Lanier told the council that he “always wanted to live up to the agreement with Republic,” but that Republic, in his words, “tried to bully us” with the higher prices, but that it “backfired” on them. He also stated he never wanted to be in an adversarial position, adding, “We wanted to be a good steward of the city and a good partner with the city.”
Lanier also pointed out that his company, which has more than 100,000 customers a week, has contracts with surrounding communities and can bring waste to the transfer station here so the City can make money. He also addressed Johnson’s Monday night concern that rates would go up if Ryland were to take over waste removal with a new contract, saying, “Our rates are always controlled by council. We have to have a relationship of trust … We want to pick up the garbage in the City of Hazlehurst, and we want to be a part of the City of Hazlehurst, and we want to do what’s right.”
Smith then suggested discussing the matter further in closed session at the end of the meeting. When the council returned from that session, Stone stated that no action was taken.
In another in-depth discussion during the workshop, Landon Chavis, owner of the Flower Gallery and who is among those heading up the Oct. 22-23 South Georgia Food and Wine Festival, addressed the council, asking that the $50 vendor fee to be waived this year to encourage more vendors to participate. As of Sept. 13, the date of the meeting, Chavis said only two wineries had signed up, adding, “We’ve got several lined up, but they’re questioning finances.”
Stone told Chavis that the City would have expenses relating to the festival, but also noted, “We would be in error if we didn’t do everything we can to try to promote it as much as possible.”
Ramay called the festival “a rare opportunity” for the City, but he and Johnson agreed that it would “set a precedence” if the vendor fee were waived.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Diane Leggett put the motion before the council to forfeit the $50 charge, with Stone seconding. With Ward 4’s John Bloodworth absent from the meeting, the final vote was Stone and Leggett for waiving the fee, with Johnson and Ramay voting no, resulting in what Stone termed a “dead issue.”
Chavis also explained that an excise tax, per city ordinance, was to be placed on all inventory the wineries bring with them and not on the number of bottles sold. He asked that the council modify the ordinance to tax the vintners only on the inventory that is sold. It was not put to a vote.
But neither issue was dead, as during Thursday’s meeting, Smith gave the first reading of an amendment to the original June 17, 2021, ordinance that required the vendor fee by substituting “shall charge a fee” to “may charge a fee,” with the excise tax on all inventory changed from ”shall also levy” to “may also levy.”
The second reading is set for the council’s regular meeting Oct. 21, just in time for the festival to begin Oct. 22.
In other action during both meetings, the council ….
…. listened as Smith read an ordinance to annex property owned by the City but that is located outside of corporate city limits in the county, including Hazlehurst Municipal Golf Course, Hazlehurst Municipal Airport, the U.S. 221 North lift station, the U.S. 341 South lift station, and Hazlehurst Memorial Cemetery. Stone noted that no property of any citizen will be affected. The second reading will be in October.
…. heard an update from Johnson on the 2019-20 audit that had several findings, with his telling the council, “It’s essential we get together and see what we’re doing … and make sure we stay in the spending budget.” In this section, Ramay also questioned recent golf course expenditures, including a whopping $12,019 bill for flooring that will be repaid from SPLOST, plus another approximately $4,000 that won’t. He also questioned why half of the bills for the golf course were from out-of-town vendors, adding, “That’s 50 percent in town and 50 percent not purchased from our people and our taxes here. I’m concerned about these.”
…. after hearing a request from Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Fire-Rescue Chief Charles Wasdin, approved travel for his department’s Dustin Hyers and Shawn Killi to attend a fire plan review and calculations class at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth Sept. 13-19. Wasdin also briefly discussed water lines and fire hydrant replacements and capabilities, with no formal action taken by the council.
…. approved the official route and bonfire for the 2021 Homecoming Parade held Sept. 16.
…. heard a brief report from Captain James Mock of the Hazlehurst Police Department on activity for August.
…. in the Mayor and Councilmen’s Comments section of the workshop, agreed for a youth group to have a cookout on Sept. 18 at the city-owned Mary McLean Frazier Park.
…. per a request from Jeff Davis Hospital’s Jason Wilcox, approved the flyer and support for the “Pink Up the Pace” 5k run Oct. 16 that supports breast cancer awareness.
…. approved August’s report to council, water and sewer adjustments of $7,006.21, and the check register for bills already paid, with Leggett questioning a single water adjustment of $6,215 for Beasley Forest Products that Stone, without further explanation, said “was the right thing to do.”