Public Works – Part One
Street and Sanitation Department
Of all of the City’s departments, the Street and Sanitation Department probably had the most humble beginnings. It began with a man and a pickup truck working out of a tool shed behind the old City Hall. This was the “Public Works” department and the duties were to maintain public grounds, gutters and storm drains. The department quickly grew to several men and on Octoner 5, 1957 Charlie Waldrop (no kin to Mayor Waldrop) was hired to head the department.
When the department grew to a couple of heavy trucks, an open pavilion was built in the center of the new Midfield Municipal Park to shelter them. It would later be enclosed with building blocks and garage doors. This was the first municipal garage and would serve the City for many years. Garbage collection was still being contracted out.
In 1962 the City bought a garbage truck and began it’s own garbage collection. Roy Keller was hired on Feb. 9, 1962 to be the first garbage truck driver. The Department of Public Works was now the Street and Sanitation Department.
By 1968 the department employed 10 laborers and had a garbage-packer truck, two dump trucks, a pickup truck, a backhoe, and a small tractor. The City also owned its own garbage dump that served not only Midfield, but also collected fees from Brighton, Hueytown, Bessemer and numerous independent garbage collectors to dump there. At this site there was another city worker and a bulldozer. The Street Department budget for 1968 was $53,264 and the Sanitation Department was $65,690.
Around 1969 Roy Keller was promoted to supervisor. When the City went under the Jefferson County Personnel Board on Jan. 1, 1971, Charlie Waldrop was classified as Superintendent of Street and Sanitation and Roy Keller was classified as Assistant Superintendent. When Charlie retired on March 31, 1983 after 25 years of service, Roy Keller moved up to head the department. By the time Roy became boss in 1983, he had already put in 21 years of service, so he retired after just six more years. Gary Pratt, who began working for the department in August of 1971, and was promoted to labor supervisor in Sept. of 1973, moved up to replace Roy Keller as Superintendent in July of 1989.
For all of this time garbage service was free to the Midfield residents. There was even a “set out crew” to bring the garbage cans from the back yard to the curb for pick up.
On November 8, 1993, after sustaining rising cost of garbage pick up and disposal due to new federal regulations, the dumping site being moved from Shannon to Mt. Olive (60 mile round trip), per ton fees going up, labor cost, and the need for two new $60,000 garbage trucks, Mayor Martin and the City Council bit the bullet and passed a $10 per month garbage fee. The fee would become effective on Jan. 1, 2004.
This fee would still only cover about 25% of the cost of garbage service. Exemptions would be made for hardship cases.
Negotiations began in October of 1994 for a new street and sanitation building on Woodfield Rd. (MLK Dr.) behind Midfield Dodge. The department moved into this modern and spacious new building in 1995. The old city garage in the park went to the Park & Recreation Department for its parks maintenance department.
In early 2000 the City contracted with Bessemer Utilities to collect the garbage fees. Instead of being billed $30 quarterly from the City, the residents would now have $10 a month added to their water bill. The back-door service was also eliminated except for the elderly and disabled residents. For 8% Bessemer Utilities not only handled all billing, but also assumed collection risk. The city got paid whether Bessemer collected the money or not.
As of October 2003 (50 years after the “man and a truck”), Gary Pratt was managing a staff of 20 Street and Sanitation employees in a modern city garage with three garbage trucks, two dump trucks, 2 trash trucks, 3 pickup trucks, a leaf truck, a bucket truck, a back hoe, 2 farm tractors, a right-of-way mower and one automobile. The budget for the combined departments was $880,000.
In early 2004 an audit showed the City with a 2003 deficit of $225,000. As part of an overall package to get the City back into black ink, the new Mayor Williams and Council voted to raise the garbage fee to $20 a month. This was still well below the actual cost of the garbage service.
In August of 2004 Gary Pratt retired. Jeff Zissette, who was hired as a temporary seasonal worker in June of 1987, worked his way up to full time laborer, then skilled laborer, then truck driver, then labor supervisor, and was Public Works Supervisor before being promoted to replace Gary Pratt on December, 2004. Jeff Zissette is still Public Works Director as of this up-date.
Faced with the need to buy two sanitation trucks at a cost of $200,000, rising cost of workers comp insurance as a result of injuries due to garbage pick-up, and the fact that the $20 fee per household was still not covering the cost of garbage service, Mayor Richardson and the City Council privatized the garbage service on December 13, 2004.
B.F.I. took over the collections and free large rolling garbage containers were distributed to the homes. Twiced weekly pick-ups continued and the $20 garbage fee per household remained the same. Extra workers kept their jobs until normal attrition could work them out.
The Street and Sanitation Department was once again the Department of Public Works.