Despite objections from two members of the Pine Bluff City Council Monday, a resolution approving an increase in the rate Waste Management charges for garbage collections was approved.


Both Councilman Steven Mays and Councilmember Thelma Walker objected to the rate hike, which takes the monthly fee from $16.69 to $17.07, a .38-cent increase. Under the contract, Waste Management is allowed to adjust their rates annually, with increases based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and those increases will take effect on Nov. 1, the anniversary date of the current contract.


Before the vote, Councilman Bruce Lockett asked City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott if there was anyway not to pass the resolution and avoid a lawsuit.


“No,” Hadden-Scott said.


During public comments before the meeting began, Pine Bluff residents John Tate and Wanda Bateman both spoke against the increase, with Tate saying that city residents are not getting what they pay for from Waste Management, citing a recent instance where his trash container broke when the wheels came off.


He said that he had called company officials all the way to Atlanta and “got no satisfaction.”


Tate said a Waste Management driver got out of his truck and put the wheels back on.


“It will probably be broken again by the time I get home,” Tate said.


Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington said she had seen the same thing with her own trash container, with drivers slamming the trash containers down too hard, breaking the wheels. She said her office receives complaints on a regular basis from city residents about garbage not being picked up, a statement echoed by other members of the council.


The city’s contract with Waste Management expires next year, and Washington said that as negotiations begin with the company next year, service-related problems will be discussed.


City Finance Director Steve Miller said Waste Management actually bills the city, which has contracted with Liberty Utilities to put the rate on residents water bills so that Waste Management can be paid.


“Waste Management is going to raise the rate by the CPI,” Miller said. “You can’t stop the increase.”


Both Mays and Walker also cast the only no votes on a resolution allowing the mayor to contract with the SALT Group of Jonesboro to study the city’s payment of sales and use taxes to the state to see if there were overpayments.


City Auditor Gina Devers said Pine Bluff spends more than $20 million annually on a variety of goods, services and repairs — a broad spectrum that makes it difficult to know which purchases, etc., require paying sales taxes and which don’t.


“For example,” Devers said, “things bought for law enforcement might be exempt while the same things bought for the collectors office might not.”


Miller said that other cities in the state are doing the same thing, adding that tax laws are complicated “because they’re written by legislators.”


“This is just another way to spend taxpayers money,” Mays said.