Despite the turmoil of the last few months, the Northeast Arkansas Regional Solid Waste Management District has a firm budget, and there will be no increase in tipping fees.

“[Walnut Ridge] Mayor [Charles] Snapp asked me to include an increase in tipping fees,” said district executive director Joseph Pence, “but I didn’t see the need for it, given our current budget and where we [were compared to it].”

Tipping fees are what the district charges haulers to dump trash in the landfill on Greene 890 Road in Paragould. “I left it at the exact same tipping fees,” Pence said.

The budget, as approved by the district board at its Dec. 21 meeting, shows projected revenues of $3.59 million and expenses of $3.48 million, for a total surplus of $111,265.

Any increase in tipping fees could reasonably be expected to be passed along by haulers to their customers.

Pence told the board he was not sure how some figures from before he assumed duties had been derived, but otherwise, he used historical data to build the 2022 budget. Until May 7, Jason Wolfenbarger had been executive director of the district, but the board dismissed him from the position following his arrest May 6 on federal charges.

One major component of the budget that had generated questions, Pence said, was the inclusion of a pay raise. “And that was to incorporate trying to make a correct pay scale for the operators,” he said. “It’s still well within our means of doing this budget.”

Snapp said the budget as drawn up by Pence “has a lot of merit.” Nonetheless, he suggested a mid-year review of the budget. “Along that line, we talked about a mid-year budget review as well,” said district board chair and Lawrence County Judge John Thomison. “That’s one thing I think we need to be doing, and we haven’t been.”

Paragould Mayor Josh Agee agreed, but for a different reason. “I know Joe’s new, and this is not a stab at you at all,” he said, “but we presented our [city] budget last Monday, and trying to present a budget, and getting the landfill’s budget after we’ve already presented and adopted our budget [means our estimate of cost] is a stab in the dark.”

Agee expressed satisfaction that the district’s budget involved no increase in tipping fees. “But I don’t like getting the budget this late in the year,” he said.

“None of us need that,” Snapp added. “Meaning nothing against Joe or [district office manager] Debbie [Johnson] by any means, but this has been a chaotic year.”

Agee suggested that a draft budget by October could give cities and counties a chance to incorporate at least a ballpark cost figure into their own budgets. “And next year is a good year to start it,” Snapp added.

Thomison said that in years past, the district budget had often been adopted by Thanksgiving. “I don’t have a problem with getting a budget put together by September of every year,” Pence responded.

In other business, Pence told the board that an effort to buy a roll-off truck for $120,000 actually saw the district procure two such vehicles for $100,000 total. “They’re older trucks,” he said, “but still in decent shape.” One of them will serve as a backup for the road recycling truck, he said.

The board also heard from Pence that the fencing project had been completed, with repairs ongoing on appropriate sections of the fence.

And Pence said the change in telephone service from AT&T to Empower has resulted in much greater clarity in the phones. “Phones are crystal-clear,” he said, “Internet is a lot better than what it was on the satellite, and our internet bill dropped, along with our phone bill – it all dropped.”

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