Misuse the root of solid waste fee hikes

Published 7:39 pm Sunday, July 19, 2020

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Those looking to dump construction debris at county convenience sites should plan to look elsewhere for the time being, and the rising cost of solid waste services is the reason.

According to Beaufort County Commissioner Frankie Waters, a member of the county’s Solid Waste Committee, the tonnage carted away by the company contracted by the county has gone up 18% in the past four years. The result has been a steady increase of solid waste fees charged to residents over the last several years. As of July 1, that fee increased again, from $155 per year to $165 per year.

Waters said it was budget discussions this spring that prompted the committee to take a harder look at solid waste services, when commissioners had one of two options: raise fees again or dip into the general fund to make up for the shortfall between revenue and cost.

“In our budget discussion this year, when it came up, we had some commissioners that wanted to dip into the general fund to subsidize it,” Waters said. “I said, ‘No, that’s why we made it an enterprise fund — so we could see how much is being spent.’ Before, if our tonnage went up over a year, we would just subsidize it with our tax money, from our general fund.”

The cost of the solid waste services has risen from $3.2 million per year when the enterprise fund was created to now $3.9 million per year. The bulk of that is bulk items — specifically, construction debris, or C&D — which makes up 49% of the total tonnage collected each year. Everyday garbage makes up 36%; vegetative debris, 12%; white/metal debris, 2%; and until a recent suspension of recycling services at county convenience sites, recycling made up 1% of the total tonnage collected.

According to Beaufort County Manager Brian Alligood, county convenience sites were not intended to accept that much C&D, and in recent weeks, employees with Republic Services, the company contracted by the county for solid waste services, have been enforcing the policies that were not being enforced.

“We haven’t changed our policies,” Alligood said. “It’s not the normal residential stuff like, ‘I’m fixing stuff at my house.’ The issue that they’ve run into is it’s not residential. It’s commercial. … The piece about contractors doing that hasn’t been enforced as tight as it should have been.”

“What we were beginning to see is contractors trying to make it convenient on themselves and save money with somebody, and bringing in dual-axle trailers with a dump on it and backing up their trailers and dumping it,” Waters said.

Waters said the result is fees keep climbing, and it’s the average resident who is covering the costs of those who use the county sites to dump C&D, rather than pay to do so at the transfer station on Flanders Filters Road.

“What happens is when you or I — and I’ve done the same thing — when we abuse the system, it’s being subsidized by the people who don’t take those items to the convenience site,” Waters said. “There is no free lunch. If you create the tons, you’ve got to pay for them.”

Solid Waste Committee members have tasked themselves with studying the issue in depth to try to find a balance between the cost and service for solid waste disposal, Waters said. Republic Services will be giving a presentation at the Aug. 3 meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners to go over some of the options. The meeting is open to the public.