SNOW HILL — Abuse of the current rules has led the Worcester County Commissioners to propose policy changes on how solid waste transfer stations are run.
“There’s a lot of cheating,” said Chief Administrative Officer Gerald Mason.
Waste transfer stations, which act as a more convenient alternative to the central landfill for trash disposal, have had issues with people abusing the system for years, according to Enterprise Fund Controller Jenifer Savage. She added that the exploitation of regulations comes at a significant cost to Worcester, and that there would need to be a major overhaul to keep solid waste from becoming a fiscal burden.
“We’ve got an elephant to eat,” said Public Works Director John Tustin, referring to the massive scope of the project.
He explained that there was no quick fix, but changing how transfer stations work would be a good start. According to Tustin, the biggest abuses involve people either including bulk items and construction debris with their normal trash or providing secondary permits to vehicles outside of their household.
Of those two issues, construction debris is the murkier situation. Policy has shifted over the years regarding the disposal of bulk items and materials. In the past, no bulk items could be dumped at transfer stations. However, the rules were relaxed so that debris could be deposited at the stations as long as the amount was no higher than the wheel-wells on a pickup truck.
Unfortunately, such a policy forces station employees to use their judgment when gauging if materials should be allowed to be dumped, putting them in an awkward position and causing many users to become hostile. The commission was also told that people have found ways around the rule, taking huge amounts of construction debris and bulk items to transfer stations over the course of several trips, keeping each load under the imposed limit.
Savage explained that such circumvention is hard to stop, since the person abusing the system stays within the letter of the law.
The other big exploitation is the illegal distribution of dumping permits. In order to deposit garbage at a transfer station, county residents must purchase a permit. They are then given the option of obtaining a second permit at a highly reduced price.
Those secondary licenses are meant to be put on a vehicle within the primary permit owner’s household. However, Savage estimated that of the 2,000 secondary permits issued last year, roughly 700 of them were probably given to vehicles outside of the primary household, usually friends and relatives of the original owner.
Savage said abusers of the system were putting a drain on the solid waste department and that new solutions had to be found. She presented a list of possible changes to the commission, most of which were easily adopted.
“You have to enforce registration,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley, referring to primary permit holders buying second permits for people outside of their household.
Savage agreed and guessed that better enforcement could save the department around $40,000 a year.
There was a lot of debate over how much, if any, debris and bulk material should be allowed at transfer stations. Large amounts of construction waste are difficult and expensive to process. Limiting permit holders to a small amount of material wouldn’t be too costly. However, as Savage pointed out, the system is easily abused by making multiple trips.
Additionally, the loosely defined rules leave room for dispute and argument, often forcing station employees to deal with confrontational permit holders. Savage revealed that the police had to be contacted on multiple occasions.
In the interest of simplicity and consistency, the commission decided that no bulk items or debris would be allowed at transfer stations beginning July 1.
“If you can put it in a bag, we’ll take it,” summarized Tustin.
Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw asked that the motto be amended to include small bundles as well. That was accepted. However, any materials that cannot fit into a garbage bag or a similarly sized bundle will have to go to the central landfill.
Savage pointed by eliminating the need to process bulk items, household dumping permits could be kept relatively cheap. After some debate, the commission voted to raise the price of permits per household from $50 a primary and $10 a secondary, to $60 and $15, respectively. There was brief consideration of charging a flat $50 per vehicle permit, but it was dismissed.
“It won’t work. We’ll lose money,” said Commission President Bud Church.
The changes to permit prices will not coincide with the July 1 rule against dumping bulk items. Instead, it will come into effect Jan.1, with the next billing cycle.
Along with those two major alterations, a few other cost-saving measures were agreed upon, most notably reducing the hours of transfer station operation from 10 hours a day, seven days a week to 10 hours a day, five and a half days a week. The stations will be closed on Wednesday and only open 1-5 p.m. on Sundays.
All changes will be open to public discussion at a hearing next month.