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Johnston breaks tie, Covington votes to outsource sanitation

COVINGTON, Ga. - After a tie-breaking vote from Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, two companies have been approved to pick up the city's sanitation service moving forward. 

After months of discussion, Latham Home Sanitation will pick up the residential and business canisters, while Advanced Disposal will pick up commercial dumpsters and roll-offs. City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said city employees will continue to pick up yard waste. 

This change does not equal an increase in cost to residents but does add an increase in services, Knight said. Currently, rates will remain the same and should a decrease become an option, the council will need to approve a new rate structure. 

"This proposal provides for bulk waste as well, which we currently do not provide - it is a pay as you go for bulk waste right now," she said. "The rate that we've been given actually includes the bulk to be picked up - two items every week."

The transition into the new sanitation contractor will take approximately 60 days, Knight said. 

Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston made sure it was clear throughout out the new contract that the city's waste would continue to be dumped in the Newton County Landfill. 

"I think y'all understand the impact to the county and that landfill if we don't take our tonnage of trash out there," he said. "We are the No. 1 customer and it is a big deal."

Latham Home Sanitation raised the concern that sometimes ingress and egress into the landfill is difficult due to weather conditions.

"I have been reassured twice by the county that they will make sure to get with them and resolve those issues so we can take all of the trash to our landfills," he said. "It's a win-win for the whole community. As you know, I was a part of the Solid Waste Authority and if we don't get that tonnage, we're going to have to start bringing in from the outside and nobody really wants that."

Barbara Latham-Jarvis, president of Latham Home Sanitation, said it was in their best interest to dump in the Newton County Landfill as well. 

"Our price per ton at the Newton County Landfill is cheaper by $12 per ton than it is up the road in Rockdale, so it is in our best interest financially to dump it here," she said. "That being said, if at all possible, whenever possible, you have our guarantee as a company, you have my word as the owner, we're dumping in Newton County Landfill."

Latham-Jarvis said the company currently contracts with 15 cities across the state, including Oxford, Loganville and Social Circle. 

"I mentioned it to y'all and I'd like to mention it to your citizens," she said. "I was born in Covington, Georgia. I went to Oxford College. My grandparents had a little grocery store in Porterdale and my other set of grandparents worked at Covington Mill when it was around, so I've heard a couple of people say, 'How do we know? How do we know?' and the last thing I would do to my family's reputation in Newton County is ruin it by not being truthful and forthright and tell you what I'm going to do and what I'm not going to do. 

"You have my word that I will serve - Covington is my birthplace - I will serve this community as well as I could possibly do because I'm invested in this county and this county is my legacy."

One of the main concerns of outsourcing sanitation would be the loss of jobs for current city employees.

"We started this process with 23 employees in the sanitation department and my understanding is, whether it is being promoted in other departments, leaving, retiring, being retrained and getting a new job, or one of these different situations, we're down to basically five employees left that, right now, do not have a distinct direction," Johnston said. 

Knight clarified that the department is down to 14 employees with one set to retire in the near future. With 13 remaining, one has already been given another job within the city, three more openings should be available also within the city, Latham Home Sanitation is looking to hire three employees and Advanced Disposal is looking to hire one employee, which leaves five employees without a clear path. However, Advanced Disposal does have other openings outside of the Covington area available as well.

"These additional five have the opportunity to get additional training, some of them may have already," Johnston said. "They have got opportunities which is everything from forklifting to welding to everything like that. The human resources department is helping with their resumes, that has been offered ... I just want to reassure everybody, that - in my opinion - we are going above and beyond to make sure each person has every opportunity possible."

Councilman Kenneth Morgan, Councilman Anthony Henderson and Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams voted in opposition of outsourcing the sanitation, while Councilman Michael Whatley, Councilman Josh McKelvey and Councilwoman Susie Keck voted in favor of the transition.