Waste Pro subscribers in Buncombe County should budget for an 8.7 percent increase in the cost of trash collection over the next several months.
On July 10, Buncombe County commissioners unanimously approved two 4.35 percent (64-cent) bumps in the monthly rate, which will go into effect on Aug. 1 and April 1. Subscribers currently pay $14.77 per month to have their solid waste and recycling collected by Waste Pro. These rate increases will bring that total to $15.41 on Aug. 1 and $16.05 on April 1.
Waste Pro has had an exclusive franchise on the collection of solid waste and recyclables in unincorporated parts of Buncombe County since Jan. 1, 2010. The franchise agreement ends on Dec. 31, 2019. Waste Pro had initially asked commissioners to bring the rate up to about $17.25 per month.
“We’ve gone through some growing pains,” Robert Allen, director of government relations for Waste Pro, told commissioners. Drivers are collecting higher salaries, and the price of new vehicles is increasing. The cost of handling recycling has also jumped.
Commissioners noted they have received calls from constituents about trash not being collected.
“It’s a people business,” Allen said, “and it sounds really simple that you drive around and pick it up and take it away.” But challenges such as new drivers, winding roads and weather get in the way. “Are there going to be misses? Absolutely, but the whole idea is to respond quickly — get out there and get it out.”
Commissioner Al Whitesides said he was surprised when he was elected a year and a half ago at the number of complaints the county was receiving about trash not being picked up; he said the trash collection model the county is using is outdated. “I know nothing about trash,” Whitesides said, “but common sense tells me that what we’re doing is not going to get any better.”
The last Waste Pro increase went into effect in July 2012. The 8.7 percent increase approved by commissioners on Tuesday is in line with growth in the consumer price index (issued monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) since then.
County green-lights search firm
In a step the board didn’t take when it chose Mandy Stone to replace former County Manager Wanda Greene, commissioners decided to seek the assistance of an executive search firm to help with the selection of a new permanent county manager.
The board announced in early June that Stone would be retiring effective July 1, almost exactly a year after she accepted the position.
The county manager recruitment process outlined by interim County Manager George Wood contrasts with the process the Board of Commissioners went through about a year ago when it chose Stone for the position.
“There was no process other than simply choosing Mandy for the job,” board Chair Brownie Newman told Xpress after the meeting. “I strongly disagreed with this and publicly advocated for a full, open search process. However, the other board members did not agree and simply choose Mandy without considering other candidates.”
Citing a booklet from the UNC School of Government, Wood said the best-case time frame for the selection of a county manager would be four months, and the worst case would be seven months. This estimate, however, doesn’t take into account the time necessary to conduct a request for qualifications to hire the consultants, Wood said, a step he anticipates would tack on an extra 45 days.
Wood pointed to a list of attributes commissioners may want to consider in their ideal candidate, including interpersonal skills, financial management experience and technical knowledge of county services. An imminent next step in the selection process involves putting together a series of public input sessions for each county district.
“The main thing is to give the public an opportunity to tell you what they view as the most important attributes [of a county manager],” Wood said. “Then we’ll have the department heads do it, and then ultimately it will be your decision as to what you want to emphasize.”
Asheville is conducting a similar search process for a city manager after City Council voted to boot longtime City Manager Gary Jackson in March, about nine months shy of his planned retirement. The city opened a request for proposals in early March for an executive search firm and received nine responses.
After Buncombe County selects its executive search consultant, the firm will advertise the position and then screen applicants to develop a list of top candidates. The Board of Commissioners will decide how it will interview the candidates, and the firm will develop the interview questions and grading system. Commissioners will review the top candidates and decide whom they want to interview. Once the board agrees on a top choice, the firm will conduct a reference check, criminal history and credit check and confirm the candidate’s academic history.
Wood anticipates a search firm will cost Buncombe County about $80,000, which is a third of the county manager’s annual salary. In a memo he sent to commissioners on July 2, Wood said he has frozen a program analyst position worth about $65,000 plus benefits to help offset the cost of the search firm.
Former County Manager Wanda Greene has been accused of misappropriating $2.3 million to purchase whole-life insurance policies for herself, her son, Michael Greene, and several county employees and purchasing more than $200,000 of personal items with county-issued purchase cards.
The next meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will take place at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7, in the third floor conference room at 200 College St. in downtown Asheville.