By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Tupelo's City Council voted Tuesday to throw out a $98,500 yearly commercial garbage fee set to go into effect Friday and substitute an alternative fee based primarily on volume.

Mayor Jack Marshall immediately vowed to veto the council's actions.

Saying he made a mistake Dec. 19 when the council voted 5-4 to establish the $98,500 fee, Ward 7 Councilman Danny Barrows urged fellow members to rescind that vote. The change would both spur competition and increase city revenues, Barrows contended.

"That's bothered me ever since I voted on it that night," he said. "I believe we acted on something that's going to cost the citizens money ..."

After getting a 5-4 vote to reverse the action, Barrows then moved to establish a $10,000 yearly charge plus 5 percent of revenues generated by commercial and industrial haulers. That motion carried 6-3.

But Ward 4 Councilman Steve Mayhorn, who cast the swing vote, said he would not vote to override the mayor's expected veto of either action. Barrows' backers would need six votes to override, assuming all members are present and voting.

The Dec. 19 vote was seen as favoring Waste Management Inc., which currently has a lock on commercial waste work in the city.

Under a "non-exclusive" franchise granted when Waste Management got the city's residential garbage contract, the company has been paying the city at least $95,000 a year for commercial and industrial hauling privileges.

But the contract, which runs to August 1999, allows Waste Management to drop all payments if the city permits another hauler into the commercial market.

Browning-Ferris Industries and others want into the market but contend the $98,500 startup fee effectively prices them out. BFI has filed two court appeals claiming council's December action illegally abetted a Waste Management monopoly.

Barrows claimed his latest proposal would bring the city at least $113,000 a year, roughly $15,000 more than it will get under the Dec. 19 provision which takes effect Friday.

But other council members questioned those numbers, charging that no documentation was included in council's information packets. And if Waste Management exercised its contract provision to pay nothing, the city stands to lose up to $100,000 a year until the contract expires in 1999, they said.

"We've got a contract that we don't need to break," argued at-large Councilman Paul Eason. "This is collusion of a crazy kind ... We don't know what it's going to pay."

In other action, the council voted to switch its employee cafeteria insurance coverage from Colonial Life to the AFLAC Co. after an employees committee urged the change. However, the switch would permit employees to maintain existing policies under the old carrier if they choose.

Council members delayed implementation of a program permitting unreimbursed medical expenditures to be covered under the same insurance plan pending a report of the financial effect on the city.

The council also heard a request by a Windsor Place subdivision spokesman for the city to roll back sewer tapping fees to $200, the charge in effect when the subdivision was annexed in 1989. The current $475 fee, coupled with homeowners' individual costs, will have many residents in the subdivision facing a cost of $1,000 or more to obtain sewer service, Bill Flynn told the council. Council members took no action on the request.

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