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Solid waste fee to help fulfill growing needs

Posted: December 6, 2012 6:01 p.m.
Updated: December 7, 2012 5:00 a.m.

A $55 solid waste fee approved by Kershaw County Council in June will help complete capital needs estimated to cost as much as $1.5 million during the next five years, according to Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter.

The fee, approved by council on a 5-2 vote in June, was initiated due to concerns over the fiscal strength and stability of the county’s Solid Waste Department. Councilmen Jimmy Jones and C.R. Miles voted against the fee.

Carpenter said the fee was implemented to ensure the programs, services and needs of the department could continued to be met.

He explained that the county’s growth combined with mandates outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) have expanded the needs of the county’s solid waste operations.

Carpenter noted in particular that the agencies require the county to ensure that ground water and air quality is monitored, ensure that the recycling/convenience centers are safe and efficient, and that no harmful runoff leaves the sites.

“In some cases, we are needing to go in to almost every one of them and start upgrades and renovations to them,” Carpenter said, referring to mandates and improvements associated with the recycling/convenience centers. “You can look at them and tell that the years are wearing on them. We also need to start looking at the possibility of new sites because of growth in the county.”

The county previously relied on appropriations from the general fund in order to finance the solid waste department. The scarcity of funds generated by a downturn in the economy and an increased use of the facilities were allowing only a minimally adequate level of services to be provided, Carpenter said.

He noted the expense of heavy machinery and other capital needs of the department were also draining resources away from other departmental budgets in the general fund.

The county’s general fund consists of local tax collection and state revenue. By implementing the $55 fee, the solid waste department will have a dedicated, stand alone funding source separate from the general fund.

In total, the county has nine recycling locations, which are located throughout the county in Bethune, Camden, Elgin, Lugoff, Kershaw, and Ridgeway.

According to Carpenter, several specific capital projects have been recommended to be completed over the next five years at the county’s solid waste sites, including:

•major remediation work on the closed West Wateree Landfill;

•work and replacement of heavy equipment at the Park Road Construction and Demolition Debris Landfill;

•major renovations and upgrades to both the Lugoff and Elgin Recycling Centers in order to accommodate population growth;

•replacing of aging equipment, resurfacing of pavement, and expanding services at other recycling/convenience centers. 

Additionally, recommendations include the need for a new recycling/convenience center in the West Wateree area.

Carpenter said the projects at this point are simply proposals and would need to be approved by council in order to move forward. He categorized the majority of the projects as major upgrades.

In South Carolina, several other counties have a fee in place to generate funds for solid waste operations, including Anderson, Berkley, Darlington, Florence, Marion, Richland, Spartanburg and Sumter counties.

“For most of the ones that do have it, $60 is common, some charged $80, in some cases even more than that,” Carpenter said.

He said the county’s $55 fee level was implemented in order to generate enough funds to cover burgeoning solid waste costs. Under the general fund mechanism for funding, county staff estimated total revenues to be about $325,000 for the solid waste department in Fiscal Year 2012-2013. However, expenses for solid waste were estimated to be approximately $1.9 million this fiscal year, nearly five times the revenue amount. Carpenter said the total funding level garnered by the recently implemented fee would not be available until the county begins collecting tax and fee revenue in February and March. 

He said the funds generated by the fee would be allocated only and specifically for the solid waste department.

“This money is going towards solid waste. A fund was set up and created that by law can only be spent for solid waste,” Carpenter said. “Legally, the way we did it, our hands are bound to spend this money that comes in only for solid waste.”

Councilman Stephen Smoak said the county was essentially left with two options, either increasing taxes or implementing a fee, in order to properly deal with the issue of solid waste. 

“That’s a vital aspect of what we have to do,” he said, referring to the county’s responsibility to dispose of solid waste. “Federal and state governments require local governments to deal with solid waste.”

Smoak said disposing of solid waste properly can unfortunately be quite expensive and that by implementing the fee as a funding mechanism, it wouldn’t place an added impact on taxes for businesses, agricultural land, vehicles, boats, and personal property other than residential property.    

Miles indicated that he understood the reasoning behind the fee, but felt it was simply too high.

“I just thought $55 was too much of an impact at one time. I think the economy is too tough. It’s just tough times for any kind of increase,” Miles said.

He said the cost of solid waste was “depleting the general fund” under the previous funding mechanism. Consequently, he agreed that a fee is the best way to compensate for the shortfall, but believed charging $10 to $15 over a number of years would have been a better solution.


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