Haywood County commissioners are fighting opposition on all fronts after a county task force recently recommended major changes to trash and recycling operations.
The central debate is revolving around a proposal that would privatize a portion of the county’s trash operations, put 15 full-time county employees out of work, and shut down a transfer station in Clyde where haulers now deliver their loads.
“The same folks that say reduce the costs are here saying save the jobs,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick at a county meeting Monday, which saw everyone from private trash haulers to county employees to regular citizens railing against commissioners.
Meanwhile, town officials in Waynesville, Clyde and Canton are none too happy about greater expenses being passed down to them as the county offloads some of its current responsibilities.
Haywood County’s budget as proposed calls for the county to outsource operations of its 10 convenience centers, where residents without curbside trash pickup dump their household garbage and recyclables.
The county also plans to lay off employees who now sort all the county’s recyclables manually. Alternatively, recyclables would be hauled away to be separated much more quickly by machine.
If both measures are passed, the county would save $431,000. However, the household solid waste fee would still increase by $22 to make debt payments on an expansion of the White Oak landfill. Without the cost saving measures, those fees would jump up by $40 per household this year. The fee is currently $70.
Most controversial of all, though, is the suggestion not yet incorporated into this year’s budget: closing the county’s transfer station in Clyde.
For now, the transfer station offers town trash trucks and private haulers a one-stop shop. It’s where they drop off recyclables and where they offload trash, which the county then delivers the rest of the way to the White Oak landfill.
If the proposed changes are passed, all haulers would be forced to make the long trek out to the landfill, located off exit 15 on Interstate 40.
Though shutting down the transfer station could save the county $940,000 annually, opponents say the costs would still be passed down to customers in one form or another.
“It’s more expensive on the private haulers, it’s more expensive on the towns,” said Paul White, a hauler from Maggie Valley, who also criticized the county for excluding the towns and private sector from its solid waste committee, which came up with the recommendations.
“It’s going to affect everybody in this room, not just me,” said Roger Henson, a private hauler who handles trash pick-up for the Town of Clyde. “Reconsider this, because I’m telling you, it’s going to hurt.”
Dan Best, an employee on the recycling pick line facing a layoff in less than two months, argued the commissioners are sending money away from Haywood.
“Keep it in-house, keep it in Haywood County, and make Haywood County a viable place,” said Best.
Joy Garland, town administrator for Clyde, was caught completely off-guard by the county’s proposal.
“We just learned about this. It kind of comes as a little late in the budget year,” said Garland. “We’re just trying to put our numbers together at this point ... My board is not in favor of it, I can tell you that.”
Henson said if the transfer station in Clyde closes, his costs would skyrocket by 66 percent from having to make the long haul out to White Oak multiple times a day. The increase would be passed on to his main client, the Town of Clyde.
“We knew it would impact us, but had no idea 66 percent,” said Garland, who anticipates town residents seeing their household fees shoot up from $9 to about $15 per month.
Over in Canton, closing the transfer station would cost the town about $115,000 a year in new equipment. That translates to monthly fees jumping from $8 up to $13 per household.
Al Matthews, Canton’s town manager, said the town would seriously consider privatizing its own operations.
“We could probably contract for service cheaper than we could pass that cost on to our customers,” said Matthews.
Waynesville residents might see their household rate rise from $5.50 per month to $8 a month if the county shuts down its transfer station.
Waynesville Town Manager Lee Galloway said the town would need to acquire two new rear-loading garbage trucks and hire a new employee to shuttle trucks between curbside collection crews and the larger trucks bound for the White Oak landfill.
There also would be more wear and tear on the trucks, requiring more diesel fuel and more service, as well as an additional set of tires annually, Galloway said.
Driving to White Oak instead of the transfer station in Clyde would also add an extra 27,000 miles annually to each truck in Waynesville. The total cost increase annually for the Town of Waynesville would come out to $199,000.
Galloway said he couldn’t speak for his town board, but that he would prefer to see the county fee set higher to keep the transfer station open.
The Town of Maggie Valley, which is much closer to White Oak than its neighbors, is unfazed by the county’s proposal. Adding four miles to their private contractor’s journey each way will not result in a price hike.
“They might have to leave town a little bit earlier than if they were taking it to the transfer station,” said Tim Barth, Maggie’s town manager. “That would be the only difference.”
Maggie Valley residents can expect their household fees to remain steady at $8.24 per month.
Barth said the town decided to get out of the trash business in 2003 after growing tired of maintaining and replacing expensive equipment — not unlike the county’s current quandary.
At Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Skeeter Curtis reiterated that the proposal is far from a done deal, while Commissioner Mark Swanger said shutting down the transfer station would streamline the process and prevent trash from unnecessarily being handled twice.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Kevin Ensley expressed confidence that the private sector would somehow pull through.
“I believe the entrepreneurs that haul the trash now will find a way to make money,” said Ensley. “I really do.”
However, Best said if the county invested adequately in the department, solid waste director Steven King could run it more successfully.
“If he had the backing of the commissioners, they can make this place go,” said Best.