Overfilled dumpsters messy and costly in Lawrence

Lawrence County Commissioner Kyle Pankey looks over a discarded driver’s log next to an overfilled dumpster at Hatton Park on Monday. Dan Busey / Special to The Advertiser

Too much garbage in too few dumpsters has Lawrence County officials looking for options, with proposals ranging from video surveillance and prosecutions to adding more dumpsters to discontinuing the free service. 

Kyle Pankey, who is a county commissioner and interim solid waste director, said he is greeted by the same images every Monday. The 11 community garbage dumpsters across the county, especially those at Hatton and Moulton, are overfilled, and unsightly trash is scattered on the ground. It requires extra manpower and equipment for the county’s Solid Waste Department to clean the sites and haul away the debris. 

District 2 Commissioner Norman Pool, who represents the Hatton community, said the problem can be solved by adding a dumpster to the communities that consistently fill theirs.

“We need two dumpsters at Hatton and we probably need two at Caddo also,” he said. The Solid Waste Department office in Moulton presently has two dumpsters in its parking lot.

But Pankey said adding dumpsters would be “financially unfeasible” for the county, and his department has other options. It is installing security cameras to record those who violate the county’s dumpster rules and prosecuting them. It also will move the Hatton dumpster to a less secluded area.

He said he is in discussions with the county’s judges about classifying the dumping violations as criminal mischief, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of fines and jail time up to 60 days.

He said if the options don’t help eliminate the overflowing dumpsters, his department may end the free service, which began in 2017. Pankey said he plans to discuss the dumpster issues at a work session Wednesday.

“Stopping the service is a last resort,” he said. “I don’t want that. The service is popular with our citizens. But (the county commissioners and Solid Waste Department) have to be good stewards of the county’s taxpayers’ money.”

County residents pay for curbside pickup. The roll-off dumpsters are not intended for household garbage and are only for county residents. “The dumpsters are there for a garage cleanup, old furniture or items from a landscaping project around the house,” Pankey said.

‘Constant’ problem

Two years ago, the commissioners voted 3-2 to keep the program alive after a report of mounting costs. District 5 Commissioner Joey Hargrove and former District 1 Commissioner Mose Jones Jr. both voted to end the program.

Hargrove said the current program is broken and needs to be corrected or ended. He called the problem of overfilled dumpsters “constant” at Veterans Park in the Caddo community in his district.

“I’d favor having the dumpsters at the sites one day a month or even one weekend a month,” he said. “At Veterans Park, it’s not a surprise to see garbage from the dumpster out on the fields. Many times the park board or parents of the kids have to pick up the garbage so the kids can play ball.

“To me (the free service) is not worth the hassle.”

Presently, the solid waste department employs one full-time and one part-time worker to transport the 30-yard roll-off dumpsters to and from the landfill on Mondays and Thursdays.

Pankey said that in fiscal year 2019, his department spent $309,140 providing the free service to citizens. He said it spent $32,200 in tipping fees, $18,140 for fuel for the trucks, $53,500 for salaries, $13,700 for employee benefits and $170,000 for a truck. “Additional dumpsters could mean spending an additional $340,700 for the first year including purchasing a truck and adding another full-time employee,” he said. He said new roll-off dumpsters are $6,500 each.

Pankey said he understands citizens clean their garages and yards on weekends and take unwanted items to the dumpsters, thus creating a mess on Mondays at the 10 locations, one with two dumpsters.

“When they arrive at the dumpster site and it is full, they are frustrated and decide to leave their load anyway. It causes the mess,” he said. He urged them to take their loads directly to the landfill north of Hillsboro or possibly find a dumpster site with fewer items and more space.

In April 2018, then - Solid Waste Department Director Willie Allen told the commissioners the dumpster service was being abused by out-of-county residents and businesses, and it was too expensive to maintain the free service as is.

Allen said about 70 percent of the dumpsters’ contents are construction materials, mostly dropped off by contractors who are saving money by not having to pay a landfill disposal fee.

Pankey said some of the materials in the dumpsters are from commercial contractors.

“Contractors need to take their garbage directly to the landfill,” he said. “If they are caught, they will be prosecuted.”

Dumpster divers

Pankey said he is seeing evidence where scavengers toss items out of dumpsters so they can reach their desired items, which may be metal for resale or an item they deem valuable. Area scrap metal dealers are currently paying between $6 and $7 per 100 pounds.

“It’s a health hazard for those people climbing into the dumpsters,” he said.

Angela Baldwin, operations manager with the solid waste department, said drivers reported to her last month a woman was in a roll-off dumpster barefoot looking for scrap metal.

“Divers are a big part of the problem,” she said. “They aren’t supposed to be in the dumpsters.”

The county has posted signs with seven rules for dumpster usage at the 10 locations.

No waste on the ground and no waste above the dumpster rim are the two most-violated rules, Pankey said.

Hargrove sees the violations in his district, too.

“We’ve got to do more to have people abide by the rules,” he said. “We can’t have people climbing in the dumpsters. We can’t have contractors out there dumping. It becomes an eyesore that creates a bad perception of the entire county.”

Pankey said the program should require a truck driver only to drop off an empty dumpster and take the full one to the landfill.

“But we have to send another employee out or use work-release inmates to pick up the overflow, which is oftentimes old furniture and tires,” he said. “We have to get everybody on board with following the rules we’ve set.”

He said sometimes supportive neighbors help clean the sites. “Some own front-end loaders and drive them to the sites to help out,” he added. Pankey also urged the public to report any violators they might see.

Each county household is charged $14 a month for residential garbage pickup, and the fee is collected on the resident’s utility bill from Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp., Baldwin said. She said her department uses the $2.1 million in residential fees and $280,000 projected in commercial account revenue to fund the entire department. Baldwin said there are between 13,500 and 14,000 residential accounts in the county.

Lawrence County Commission Chairman and District 4 Commissioner Bobby Burch said he doesn’t favor eliminating the free dumpster program.

“It’s a great service to our citizens,” he said. “It’s very popular, and it’s unfortunate a few bad apples are making it difficult on everybody else.”

Pool agreed with Burch.

“It’s all we can offer our citizens,” he said. “We don’t have money for much else. I’ve said this since the program began and I will not change my position.”

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