Business owners and their trash
By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer
Jackson County solid waste officials are cracking down on how businesses dispose of their trash, a move that has small business owners like Teresa Dowd up in arms.
Dowd owns and operates West Carolina Internet Café in Dillsboro, a hot spot for Internet junkies. The café serves a wide variety of gourmet coffee, tea and homemade pastries.
“We do not generate that much trash,” said Dowd.
Each week she takes her trash — two bags or less — and recyclables to a county staffed recycling center (SRC). But county officials are putting a stop to businesses pitching their garbage at SRC sites. An amendment to the county’s solid waste ordinance — approved by commissioners in July — requires Dowd and fellow business owners to take their trash to a county transfer station or hire a private garbage hauler.
Solid waste officials say commercial businesses have been misusing the county’s staffed recycling centers, which prompted county officials to change the ordinance.
“We found restaurants using the SRC sites,” said Jackson County Solid Waste Director Chad Parker, which basically means those businesses were paying almost nothing for disposing of their waste.
Under the new ordinance, business owners have three options to choose from, Parker said. Owners can haul their trash to a transfer station, hire a private hauler, or get a Dumpster, he explained. The SRC sites are for trash and recyclables from residences only, said Parker. This provision has been on the books since July, but solid waste officials had no way of enforcing it until now.
The county recently hired Michelle Causey as its first solid waste enforcement officer. She has been pounding the pavement going door-to-door explaining the ordinance to business owners.
“She is the vehicle of information so that businesses understand what has been done,” Parker said.
“We never enforced the ordinance before, and now we are,” he added.
Laying down the law
Businesses owners who do not to comply with the new ordinance could have their license suspended, Parker says, but that’s a last resort. They will first receive a warning, which gives them 15 days to either sign up with a hauler, get a Dumpster, or get a transfer station receipt. If they fail to comply, then a $250 fine will be levied, Parker said. A second violation is a fine of $500, and the final straw is suspension of their business license, he said.
Right now all Jackson County businesses are being told that the ordinance is now being enforced. While visiting businesses, Causey is checking for proof of trash service. Owners can present a transfer station receipt or a private hauler’s monthly bill. If a business is unable to provide this information, owners are merely told they must begin adhering to the ordinance.
Parker says so far Causey has found more than 50 businesses that have been using SRC sites.
Steven King, Haywood County’s director of solid waste, says he has encountered problems with businesses and construction workers dropping off trash at Haywood’s convenience centers.
“I know we have businesses that use the convenience centers, but the problem is how do you regulate it?” King said.
In neighboring Macon County, solid waste officials say they do not have a problem with businesses using the county’s convenience centers. Businesses there, like in Jackson, must purchase service through a franchise hauler. That prevents this problem from arising, explained Chris Stahl, Macon’s director of solid waste.
The new provision is creating a burden for small businesses, owners say. Dowd says the ordinance targets businesses that generate a large volume of trash but is simply an extra cost and headache for those who don’t produce much.
In order for Dowd meet the new requirements, she must take her trash to the transfer station. The closest station is located on Mineral Springs Drive, which is outside Sylva city limits. Driving just one to two bags of trash to the station is costing Dowd more in gas mileage than the fee to dispose of the trash.
“For a month’s worth of trash it cost me 55 cents,” she said.
Hairdresser Peggy Stepp, owner of Shear Heaven, echoed the same opinion. Stepp took her one bag of trash to the transfer station on Wednesday.
“My one bag of trash didn’t even register on the scale,” she said.
Stepp investigated the costs of hiring a private hauler, but she says it’s too pricey to purchase garbage service just for one bag of trash a week.
“I am not going to pay $40 a month for trash service,” she said.
LouAnn Smith, owner of Village Studios, agreed with Dowd and Stepps.
“We are not a big business,” she said. “We don’t even create the amount of waste a household creates.”
Additionally, the transfer station hours of operation are a problem, say business owners.
The station is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon.
“If you own and operate your own business, when do you have time to go?” Dowd asked.
“Not all small businesses are able to get to the station during the hours of operations.”
But solid waste officials say they have no intention of changing the hours of operations.
No other way
Parker is aware that the new ordinance may be a burden on some small business owners, but he says the situation is unavoidable.
“Mom and pop businesses, they are just kind of getting caught up in this,” he said. “There’s going to be some that fall through the cracks.”
Parker plans to talk with solid waste board members about developing a minimum fee for small businesses that drop their trash off at the transfer station. But until that receives approval, solid waste officials will keep track of the amount of trash and issue a bill when a statement reaches $5 or more, Parker said.
Solid waste officials are trying to provide an incentive for businesses that comply with the law. Right now all Jackson County businesses pay an annual $50 user fee to help defray the costs for the county’s solid waste disposal and recycling program. Owners can get this fee waived if they show they are complying with the ordinance, Parker explained.
“Some folks are going to come out in the positive,” Parker said. “Those folks with two bags or less a week will definitely benefit.”
Parker said he notified Jackson County businesses about the waiver through a letter; however, not all businesses received this notification.
“I never received any notification,” said Delores Pittman, owner of Treasures on Main.
Parker said that letters went out last month, but some owners may have been skipped because it went to the building owner instead of the business owner.
Jackson County private trash haulers are setting up special prices for businesses considering purchasing garbage service.
Bill Buscemi, owner of Helping Hands, which handles trash and recyclables, says a business can pay as little as $10 a week, depending on their circumstances.
“We will try and personalize each fee to meet a business’ need,” he said.
Sandy Gunter of Gunter Enterprises said a business can pay $25 a month and get as many bags of trash and recyclables picked up as they produce. Gunter said her business has seen an increase in customers since the recent enforcement of the ordinance.
“Our phones have been ringing off the hook,” she said.
In addition to monitoring commercial trash, Causey will also be overseeing the county’s SRC centers to make sure people are not bringing trash from surrounding counties to Jackson. Parker says Causey will be randomly asking patrons for their car registration, which includes their county of residence.
“We are trying to keep as much of the waste out of the county as possible,” Parker said.
To learn more about Jackson solid waste ordinance visit http://solidwaste.jacksonnc.org.
Jackson County commissioners just approved a preliminary design plan for the expansion of the county’s transfer station on Mineral Springs Drive. County official say the transfer station is close to operating at maximum capacity and needs to expand. The design commissioners voted on at their Feb. 4 meeting calls for the construction of a new transfer station. The current station will be used for recyclables. The cost estimate for this project is $1,750,000.