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Residents of DeKalb County cities could face higher trash bill under proposed tipping fee increase

Avondale Estates Decatur DeKalb County Trending

Residents of DeKalb County cities could face higher trash bill under proposed tipping fee increase

The DeKalb County Sanitation Department. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — DeKalb County is considering increasing the tipping fees it charges cities to dump trash at the county’s landfill, a cost that would likely be passed on to customers.

The cities that haul waste to the county landfill are Decatur, Avondale Estates and Chamblee.

City leaders say the proposed increase caught them off guard. In Decatur’s case, it could cost the city an additional $545,000 to dump at the landfill. Decatur City Manager Andrea Arnold said that city staff first learned of the proposed increase on March 27 when they saw it on the agenda for the March 28 DeKalb County Commission meeting.

Arnold said the city asked the county if there would be any increases when it set trash collection fees, which are currently $305 a year per household.

“The city of Decatur sanitation fees that were set on March 6, 2023, by the city commission were based on the $33 per ton tipping fee,” Arnold said. “City staff confirmed with county staff in advance of the fee recommendation that no changes were anticipated in the county tipping fee.”

The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners approved an increase to the commercial, landfill, and tipping fees for the sanitation department during its meeting on March 28. The increase will be effective June 1. But the commission excluded the cities and community improvement districts that haul waste to the county landfill from this increase.

The DeKalb County Commission agenda packet states that the county’s sanitation department has not increased its fees in over a decade, and commercial, landfill, and transfer station fees are lower than industry competitors. The increase in the commercial, landfill, and transfer station fees will be used to fund the increasing costs of operations, additional positions, increases in driver wages, the cost of replacing vehicles, capital and debt needs, a post-closure fund, and phase two landfill expansion costs.

The agenda packet says the increase will also be used to re-establish a two-month reserve of operating expenses.

Arnold and Avondale Estates City Manager Patrick Bryant both said that any increases would likely be passed on to customers by their respective commissions, though they noted that the decision is up to the elected representatives of each city affected by it.

“We spend close to $90,000 a year on landfill expenses, so if that fee were to triple, that would significantly increase our cost to provide sanitation,” Bryant said.

DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry supported deferring the fee increase for cities.

“At no point in this rate study did the explanation of municipal rate customers as an impacted group would practically translate into future revenue projections,” Terry said in an email to Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett and his fellow county commissioners that he shared with Decaturish.

DeKalb Chief Operating Officer Zach Williams will meet with the cities and CIDs and present to the board of commissioners in May on the proposed rate increase for cities.

The vote on Tuesday allows the county staff to implement the fees for commercial sanitation services into its computer system to prepare for the increases to launch in June.

The city of Decatur uses the Seminole Road landfill. The increase in the tipping fees would cost Decatur about $545,000 more than anticipated. This fee is charged by DeKalb County and paid by the city for waste disposal at the county landfill, Decatur City Manager Arnold said.

The tipping fees for the Seminole Road landfill are proposed to increase from $33 per ton to $95 per ton for municipal disposal. The tipping fees for the central, east and north transfer stations would increase to $100 for municipal disposal.

To see the full breakdown of the increased commercial, landfill and tipping fees, click here.

With the $33 fee, the city of Decatur pays $290,400. That would increase to a total of $836,000, under the county’s proposal.

“I would expect that there would be a recommendation from staff to adjust the fees [to residents] to cover the significant increase in tipping fees,” Arnold said. “At this point, it’s a little early to say that until we know if and when and how much it ends up being. If that’s what it came to be, we’d sit down and review the budget again.”

“It’s plausible that would go up. I don’t know that’s where I would start. Certainly, we have to maintain the level of service we’re providing,” Arnold added.

She added that other communities could be impacted by this increase, not just Decatur.

Bryant agreed that the increase would “most likely” be passed on to the residents of cities.

“Because our sanitation program is run through a sanitation enterprise fund, so it’s a fee for service,” Bryant said. “Traditionally, how the [Avondale Estates City Commission] has chosen to approach that, the cost is passed along to the customer through an annual fee.”

The county sanitation department’s revenue would increase from about $79 million to $104 million a year with the increase in fees.

The sanitation department has exhausted its reserves and additional funding is required to sustain operations and complete capital investments.

“What we are looking to do is request the board’s authorization for us to invest in improved service,” COO Williams said. “Obviously, the costs have gone up, whether it’s fuel, whether it’s personnel, insurance, so forth. All of those things have gone up. These investments will allow us to improve our customer service, improve our commercial delivery, and ensure the continuation of life in our landfill by building cells.”

Commissioner Terry said it made sense to move forward with the proposed fees to give time to put them into the database and do marketing and communications. He added that there’s an acknowledgement that the fees have not gone up in over 10 years and the goal is to enhance service delivery.

Williams and Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson also added that the county will begin the conversation with cities, but it could be a reciprocal conversation when cities raise stormwater fees.

“We want everyone to have the conversation, but as stormwater fees are increased within the municipalities where we pay, we have paid,” Cochran-Johnson said. “I do know that it’s a sensitive conversation, but I look forward to having it because independent of us moving forward with these rate increases, we simply do not have the money that’s necessary to operation sanitation without operating at a deficit.”

The increase only impacts commercial sanitation services, and the county is not proposing increasing the residential rates for customers in unincorporated DeKalb County at this time.

Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this story. 

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