October 16, 2012 10:07:27 AM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
Harry Sanders' running feud with the city of Columbus introduced new allegations during Monday's Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting, a dispute that could wind up costing county taxpayers $25,000 or more.
Although the projects involved in the dispute are under the jurisdiction of District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith, the new controversy centers on Sanders and whether or not the city denied the county access to its landfill.
The dispute began when Sanders referred to the city council as "SOBs'' in an interview with a weekly newspaper two weeks ago. Less than a week later, County Administrator Ralph Billingsley appeared before the council requesting to have some dumping fees for the city-owned landfill waived. The dumping fees were for the removal of debris from the old health department building and the removal of some vegetation from Pickensville Road and Pickens Drive in District 4. The estimated cost for the services was $27,000.
Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem responded to Billingsley's request for the waiver coolly. "I have a problem being called an SOB," Karriem said. The council later voted on a motion by Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor to table the measure for further discussion.
During Monday's Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisor Smith, who initially had asked for up to $25,000 in PLN funds for the project, asked the county to adjust the amount set aside for the work to $50,000 to cover the additional cost resulting from not having a waiver from the city.
"This is a project that's been on the table for five years," Smith said after the board meeting. "Up until six months ago, we didn't have all of the signatures we needed to begin work on the project. There were some PLN funds available from Tombigbee Water Management. We asked the city for some assistance with using their landfill and they tabled the discussion."
Sanders said Monday the county had increased dumping expenses because the city would not allow the county to be billed for using the landfill.
"The county does not have a charge account with the city," Sanders said. "I don't understand why we don't have one. The hauling took about an hour-and-a-half longer to drive from Highway 69 to Cal-Kola and we were paying the drivers about $100 an hour. It would have been different if we had a charge account with the city (to dump in the city's landfill)."
When questioned about Sanders' comments after the meeting, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks said he was not aware of the lack of a charge account.
"That was the first I had heard of the county not having a charge account with the city," Brooks said. "If we don't, we need to fill out the paperwork and get one. My question is why don't we have one and how can we get one?"
Columbus Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernsen said the county is in good standing with the city, at least when it comes to a line of credit.
"Absolutely, the county has an account with the city," Bernsen said. "The county can charge -- they don't have to pay every time they dump. They have a charge account with the city. To my knowledge, no one has denied them the dumping request."
Columbus Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong confirmed Bernsen's statement.
"They have an open account -- it's an ongoing commercial account," Armstrong said. "When they have material, they bring it out and they dump it and we bill them for it."
Karriem also denied any knowledge of denying the county the right to dump in the city's landfill.
"We tabled the motion for some discussion, but we never voted to deny them to dump in the landfill," Karriem said. "We just want to get an understanding -- let's be diplomatic and talk about things. Whatever the county needs, we will give them when it's what's best for the constituents. No one has said the county can't use the landfill."
After Monday's meeting, Sanders stood his ground on the line of credit allegations.
"We sent a letter with Ralph (Billingsley) asking for some in-kind services and the city tabled it," Sanders said. "We had to start work on it the next day. The contractors went out to the city landfill and they told them they couldn't dump it because the county didn't have a charge account. The contractors were going to dump it and have it billed back to the county. It wasn't the county -- it was private contractors dumping for the county. They said we didn't have a charge account and we couldn't dump it. I don't know who said it, if it was the purchase clerk or the mayor or whoever."
Columbus mayor Robert Smith flatly rejected Sanders' assertion that "someone'' had denied the county access to the city landfill.
"No," Smith said. "I would have been the one to have denied it. It would have had to have gone through me and I didn't deny the county anything."
With an additional expense of up to $25,000 added to a project for his constituents, supervisor Smith was diplomatic when asked if Sanders' initial derogatory comment had cost the tax payers additional money.
"I think this whole situation needs to go away," Smith said. "We all need to do what is best for the taxpayers. This situation has made us have to make some changes in the plans. We shouldn't have assumed the city would just agree to this. I think everyone has moved on -- there has been some discussion between Harry and Mayor Smith. People got upset and I understand that, but at the end of the day, we have to move on. Now, there's money attached to all of this and the taxpayers are the one's who will have to foot the bill for this."
Also on Monday, the board approved an appraisal for a half acre of property in Burns Bottom for possible use as additional parking for the Columbus Soccer Complex.
The board also unanimously voted for a resolution to support a resort status request for Elm Lake Golf Course.