Jackson residents will have no one to pick up their trash starting this weekend, unless Richard's Disposal is provided last-minute payment for the work they have been doing since April under an emergency contract.
The council and Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba have been at odds over an emergency contract awarded to Richard's earlier this year despite the objection of the majority of city council members.
Some councilmembers voted to reject the Richard's contract and the mayor vetoed their no vote on approving the contract, an issue that is on appeal with the state Supreme Court after the circuit court ruled the mayor's veto invalid.
As a result, the council has refused to pay Richard's saying the contract is not legal.
A Thursday afternoon news release from the city of Jackson announced that the final day of garbage collection would be Saturday, confirming reports from earlier in the day that such a halt might occur.
"Pending a ratified contract and payment for services rendered, the contractor is suspending operations in the city and garbage collection will be on hold indefinitely," city spokesperson Justin Vicory said in the release.
John Walker, an attorney for the New Orleans-based garbage collection company, said Thursday morning that pickup may end due to the financial challenges the company faces from not being paid for six-months of work.
"Richard's has given time to give the city an opportunity to reach some resolution on payment, and there doesn't seem to be any resolution in sight, so basically they're seriously considering pulling out now, maybe this weekend if nothing is reached by then," Walker said.
After leaving a city council meeting Thursday afternoon, Lumumba said frustrated residents should contact their councilmembers.
"Monday if the trash is not picked up, I believe Jackson residents should contact their councilmembers," Lumumba said. "We have to deal with the likelihood that no trash will be picked up. The council should approve the contract and pay them for what they have been doing. No one can dispute that they have been picking it up."
For each day that garbage is not collected, the city of Jackson could face a fine of up to $25,000 from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Lumumba said the city is not currently at risk of those fines, but it may be soon.
"That is not an active violation yet, but the city could face significant penalties," Lumumba said.
The end of garbage collection is the latest chapter in Jackson's trash wars. A request for proposal, or RFP, bidding process which pitted Richard's against the previous vendor, Waste Management, ended without a clear winner.
Lumumba said that the Richard's bid met the "lowest and best" standards outlined in state-law, but the city council refused to approve a contract, with a majority of its members supporting Waste Management. In April, Richard's began garbage collection under an emergency contract, but the council refused to approve payment for their work. In July, Richard's filed a lawsuit seeking payment for its first two months of work. On Wednesday, Richard's filed a motion for summary judgment seeking a court to order the city to pay them for services rendered.
“I would like to thank Richard’s Disposal, their 70 local employees, and Mr. Alvin Richard for their dedicated service over the past six months,” Lumumba said in the release. “They have met all the obligations of their executed contract and have gone above and beyond the terms of the agreement. It is unfortunate that the Jackson City Council has failed to ratify the executed contract and allow for payment for services rendered. The citizens of Jackson have paid and continue to pay for the solid waste collection, and they have received the services but, due to inaction by the Jackson City Council, my administration is legally unable to pay Richard’s for services rendered. My thoughts and prayers are with the 70 local employees and their families who are facing unemployment as we approach the holiday season.”
Walker said there is a chance that the city could come to a resolution with Richard's in time to prevent the company from halting residential pickups, but he is not optimistic.
"Based on past performance I'm not real optimistic, but you know, as Jesse Jackson says, 'Keep hope alive,'" Walker said.
The lack of payment from the city to Richard's, as the company continues to pay employees and other expenses, has created a significant financial burden. Richard's is relying on profits from contracts in other cities to pay for its Jackson operation, Walker said, but that is not sustainable.
Since the council has not approved a contract, the RFP process remains open. Walker said if the city were to pay Richard's for the last six months of work, they would consider remaining in Jackson even without a long-term contract, or a promise of future payment.
"Richard's would be willing to entertain that," Walker said.
Walker maintains that Richard's had the lowest and best bid in the RFP process. Based on previous Clarion Ledger reporting, the Richard's bid would be about $1.2 million per year less than the Waste Management bid, and the Richard's bid with garbage bins was the highest score of any bid being considered.
"I would be turning my back on residents to knowingly charge them more by going for a higher contract," Lumumba said.
In the release, Vicory said the city is exploring other options for garbage collection, including the potential for designated drop-off locations. In the meantime, residents are encouraged to reduce their amount waste by avoiding disposable containers, freeze any seafood-waste until garbage is picked up again, drop any hazardous waste at 1570 University Blvd. and stay tuned into the City of Jackson's official website, social media and local news outlets.
The prospect of Richard's ending collection, and the potential consequences, has been on the minds of city leaders and residents for some time. In August, Ward Three Councilmember Kenneth Stokes, who has supported the Waste Management bid, voiced concern that Richard's leaving would lead to residents illegally dumping their trash.
"They’re not going to sit there with trash in front of their house, so Public Works, you might as well get ready to clean out the creeks because there’s going to be a lot of trash in the creeks," Stokes said.
In September, Lumumba suggested a public vote to decide who the garbage contract should go to. However, such a vote could not be held before the potential Saturday deadline set by Richard's.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Jackson garbage pickup could end Saturday unless city pays bill