City work session examines garbage service, parking, and personnel

Oneonta City Council members discussed three main issues with several interested parties present and commenting in a work session on Jan. 31. Mayor Ross Norris asked city manager-economic development officer Ed Lowe to address the first agenda item: city garbage service.

Lowe explained the city has continued under the existing waste services contract since 2009. He contended that extended agreement had served the city well but now needs re-examination.

The council seeks input from residents and particularly business owners before it delineates specifications for a new bidding. Lowe appeared interested in formulating a plan acceptable to new building owners in the downtown entertainment district.

Lowe explained that residents have mandatory once-a-week garbage pickup priced at $14.58. Commercial owners do not have mandatory service but may contract the same pick-up for $13.74. Despite that discount for businesses, Lowe said he and Norris had discovered that many do not have service, instead taking their refuse home for removal.

The main discussion on that topic revolved around the anticipated opening of three new eateries downtown. Wayne Bennett of Swamp Tails, Dennis New of Pounders and Merri Crow, who with her husband Matthew owns a corner building between Bennett’s and New’s, offered comments.

Bennett asserted that seafood scraps will foul the air if not quickly removed and will leave a long-lasting odor. He detailed, at Lowe’s request, his “ideal” arrangement as daily pick-up with cans loaded for removal and replaced by the same quantity of empty replacement containers.

Bennett’s response came after Lowe had proposed the idea of a limited-access, fenced-area envisioned for city-owned property along the old railroad bed between Railroad Boulevard and Railroad Avenue. Bennett expressed his opposition to that plan envisioning the transporting distance a threat to his employees’ health and safety.

The owners asked Lowe what they might have to pay for their desired service. Lowe repeatedly noted his uncertainty while Crow speculated that under the present pricing that might run $150 a month.

Lowe contended that he would likely need to add a city employee to accomplish what the owners were requesting. He also indicated that the bid specifications could include that option but would likely be much more than a simple expansion of the present contract amount.

When questioned on the cost of a new city employee, Lowe concluded that with salary and required benefits the city would be looking at around $50,000. Asked of the possibility of a part-time employee, Lowe speculated that might could be arranged but questioned whether the duties could be covered with that. He noted, as well, that the city needs to consider how to capture revenue to cover those costs. New noted the city should see additional revenue generated by the opening businesses. The newspaper reporter questioned the likelihood of that generation as primarily a reallocation of existing food dollars. Bennett asserted his business will bring customers to the city who would otherwise have spent their money out of county.

Councilman Danny Robinson asked of any recycling considerations. Lowe estimated a recycling plan would add around $30,000 in expenses for the city. City attorney Alex Smith opined that recyclers find no profit in the current market and normally just discard any recyclable items with regular trash.

In a separate matter, New added his concern for parking in the downtown area, close to the restaurants in development. Lowe assured him that with the present plans there should be plenty of parking behind stores along Railroad Boulevard and new spaces added beyond the present senior center.

In other discussion, Lowe announced the likely retirement of city clerk Tammie Noland within a year. He detailed his plan to have his assistant, Amanda Stanfield, train as Noland’s replacement. That would mean the city would need to hire another assistant for her slot and, as has been advertised, a human resource (HR) director. The city had budgeted $45,000 for the HR position, but Lowe questioned the ability of the city to hire someone at that figure.

Lowe explained that with an HR person, the city will need additional office space. He suggested the city needs to recapture space at the city’s Little Brick Church. The city has had requests for use of the church far above what had been anticipated. Councilman Richard Phillips asked if restricting use of the church to after-business-hours activities could offer some relief for interested civic and community use. Lowe appeared willing to explore that possibility.

Councilors Hal Blackwood, Nathaniel Butler, and Tonya Rogers joined Robinson and Phillips along with Mayor Norris for the 5:30 meeting. Those named above and other city employees and interested parties attended the session.