A new, improved SPSA

Published 7:37 pm Monday, November 2, 2009

Coming up in a little less than two months is one of the biggest changes for the Southeastern Public Service Authority since the regional waste agency was formed back in the 1970s.

On Jan. 1, a new board of directors will take over the reigns for SPSA, relieving the politicians who have helped to run the organization into the ground and left it a quarter of a billion dollars in debt. SPSA’s new leaders will be Hampton Roads business leaders, who — at least in theory — will have a better understanding of how to run such a large and complex agency without pushing it even further into the red.

The regional waste authority has been plagued with a variety of problems throughout its history, but ranking high among those challenges has been the need for the organization to overcome the politics of its board members, who have been appointed from city councils and boards of supervisors to represent their member communities.


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With those representatives often focusing on their own re-electability, the collective board made a series of bad short-term financial decisions that have spelled long-term disaster for member communities. A good example is the board’s longtime refusal to significantly raise the rates that SPSA charges for communities to dump their trash at the regional landfill. By keeping those rates artificially low for many years, board members doomed the region to a future of exorbitantly high trash-disposal fees as the Authority struggles to make enough money to pay off its outstanding debt.

Appointed business leaders at the helm of the troubled agency will be in a better position than elected officials to take a dispassionate view of the steps needed to protect the interests of SPSA in the short run and of their sponsoring communities in the long run.

The change to come on Jan. 1 — coupled with others that took effect in July — should make a big difference in the authority. Hampton Roads residents will eagerly await evidence of the improvements those changes promised. It’s unlikely they’ll have to wait long.