There’s too many pigs for the teats ~ Abraham Lincoln (As quoted by Shelby Foote in Ken Burns The Civil War)
Last month Slabbed took a look at the Hancock County Solid Waste Authority Budget as it was topical in political circles locally and sure enough on July 17th the County Board of Supervisors opened discussion about the future of the authority which is, with the possibility of one exception, unique in the State of Mississippi. Neighboring Harrison County for instance uses interlocal agreements for trash collection as administered by the Utility Authority, another local political subdivision that exists in most every county in the state including Hancock County. Put in simpler terms Hancock County is an outlier in having a separate layer of government to administer the trash collection contracts. That layer of government costs extra money to maintain and that is why the Board of Sups is looking at eliminating the Authority.
Before I get to Dwayne Bremer’s account of that portion of the July 2017 Supervisor meeting the following has to be set up. A frequent criticism I get at Slabbed from those readers that are not from this immediate area is that Slabbed writes “too much to the inside” and what that means is there are often important contextual details that are assumed in the narrative rather than being disclosed in the narrative. A reader in Jackson needs that context to truly understand what is happening and there is a whole line of books that goes by the title “insert name” for Dummies. So along those lines this post is Hancock County Solid Waste Authority for Dummies so everyone will understand, not just the locals.
Similarly the local paper which is written for a local audience often writes to the inside for the same reason. For instance why disclose that local tax collector Jimmy Ladner is the Solid Waste Board’s Attorney’s Father when virtually everyone locally knows that fact? Ladner himself prefaced his remarks on that relationship according to Lana Noonan and several other meeting attendees that spoke with Slabbed real time during the meeting. But it is that bit of context that gets us to Dwayne’s story:
Board of Supervisors President Blaine LaFontaine said dissolving the authority would eliminate the administration, engineering, and legal fees, thus saving at least $125,000 a year.
He proposed that the county absorb the administration functions and use inter-local agreements with the cities using an invoice system for the collection costs.
He said he does not believe it would create much additional work for county employees.
“We are already doing a lot of that stuff now,” he said.
Hancock County Tax Assessor/Collector Jimmie Ladner said Monday that he believes more research needs to be done on the effects of dissolving the authority.
Ladner said he was concerned that the county may not be able to get the same contract prices if dissolves the authority.
“We are talking about a quarter mil in savings which is only $2.50 for every $100,000 of property value,” Ladner said. “If we lose the power to collectively bargain, the contracts for collection may be higher, causing monthly bills to go up.”
I don’t blame Jimmy Ladner for going to bat for his daughter but I also wouldn’t let that to stand in the way of the County saving a significant amount of money. But there were others that also spoke up about keeping this duplicate level of government and it is there that we can examine the motivations of the political players that favor keeping the extra burden on the Hancock County taxpayers but before we get to that I’ll posit that Hancock County Solid Waste Authority has not been very well run financially and the reason I say that is the authority is very late in getting its required annual audits out. First let’s start with the FY 2015 Hancock County audit dated September 26, 2016, specifically Footnote 14 on PDF Page 36:
Hancock County is a participant with the Cities of Bay St. Louis and Waveland in a joint venture, authorized by Section 17-17-307, Miss. Code Ann. (1972), to operate the Hancock County Solid Waste Authority. The joint venture was created to collect and dispose of solid waste for the members of the authority. The Hancock County Board of Supervisors appoints two of the six members of the board of directors. The county’s appropriation paid to the joint ventures was $804,000 in fiscal year 2015. Complete financial statements for the Hancock County Solid Waste Authority can be obtained from Compton Engineering, P.A., 3036 Longfellow Drive, Bay St. Louis, MS 39520.
The problem is the complete financial statements for the Hancock County Solid Waste Authority (which I define as audited financial statements for the 2015 Fiscal year) did not exist until a bit less than 2 months ago when the audit was issued very late on June 6, 2017. The 2016 fiscal year has not been filed with Office of the State Auditor.
The authority must account for a few contracts and does not appear to have any employees so the accounting is not rocket science here but for whatever reason they are running behind and that is never a good sign of sound behind the scenes financial management and that brings me to the 2017 budget Slabbed published last month. It seems to me that unless the auditors are working for nothing maybe one year worth of audit fees are budgeted but certainly not two. For those keeping score the 2015 audit noted how both legal and engineering went significantly over budget so I would not hang my hat on the $125,000 savings figure because it could well be more. Further my professional opinion is folding Solid Waste into an inter-local agreement run by the County would not increase the County audit fee by a penny as it would just be more transactions and contracts added to the population of transactions and contracts that would be sampled or analytically reviewed and this gets me to Waveland Mayor Mike Smith’s defense of the Solid Waste Authority at the Supervisors meeting. Here is the quote from Dwayne’s story:
Waveland Mayor Mike Smith said Tuesday that he thinks the solid waste authority is good for the county and cities.
“I’m for anything that will reduce costs while maintaining the same services, however, I think we get some very competitive prices by speaking as a whole,” Smith said. “I’m not saying that is going to go away, but I think it at least needs to be considered.”
One thing that you’ll rarely find politicians speaking about would be what I’d call perks of the office. For instance I am friends with someone that was closely related to someone elected to high political office. He once described for me his experience eating out one night with his relative after he won an election and the short version is they all ate and drank for free that night because other customers in the restaurant currying favor with the newly elected official kept buying them food and drinks.
Folks there is big money in trash so it makes sense the players would curry favor with Solid Waste Board members. Slabbed constantly gets tips and good information and many times those tips end up filed away for later use and such is the case today because speaking of currying favor, over a year ago I was sent pictures of the following event put on by Team Waste that Slabbed’s source, an elected official not authorized to speak on behalf of the Hancock County Solid Waste Authority, indicated was sent to every member of the Hancock Solid Waste Authority Board:
Folks I can’t tell you who attended the party at the Hard Rock and got hand rolled cigars but it is this exact kind of thing that would make the recipient more math challenged when it came to justifying the existence of an extra layer of government whose elimination would save in excess of $125,000/year.
If I were on the Board of Supervisors, I’d let the numbers rather than the folks benefiting from the duplication of effort lead me to the answer on whether or not to dissolve the Solid Waste Authority.
Finally I’ll close by saying there are a lot of eyes on the Solid Waste Authority right now. I’d personally recommend following the money to the landfill. I suspect we’ll be having more on this topic.