Fee that could have put Hawkins garbage man out of business overruled

Jeff Bobo • Oct 10, 2019 at 11:16 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County commissioners said Friday that a man who takes garbage to the landfill for 413 residential customers can continue using the Carters Valley site without paying an extra tipping fee — at least for the time being.

Hawkins County is paying Republic Services $649,237 this year for disposal of all residential garbage in the Carters Valley Landfill.

For the past 34 years, Neal McMurray has been providing residential garbage pickup in Hawkins County and dumping it at the landfill without paying an extra fee because that’s always been considered part of the county contract.

He charges $14 per month and covers Carters Valley, Stanley Valley, Caney Valley, part of Goshen Valley, and other rural mountain communities.

Recently, however, county Solid Waste Director John Lilley posted a notice at the landfill stating that no business or contractor shall dump on the Hawkins County Solid Waste contract.

As a result, McMurray was going to have to pay $102 every time he dumped a load, which he estimates to be at least six times per week. He would either have to pass that extra fee to his customers or fold.

Lilley, who previously worked for Republic Services for 22 years, posted that notice at the landfill without consulting the county commission’s Solid Waste Committee, although he said he did consult County Mayor Jim Lee.

During a Solid Waste Committee meeting Friday, commissioners took Lilley to task in front of a room filled with McMurray’s customers for making that decision without informing them.

“We posted a sign at the landfill stating that no business or contractor shall dump on the Hawkins County Solid Waste contract, basically dumping on the Hawkins County tab,” Lilley told the committee Friday. “Hawkins County has never allowed businesses in any of the convenience centers that we operate. In fact, we have signs at many of the convenient centers stating ‘No commercial waste’ or ‘No business trash.’ ”

Lilley added, “We’ve got to figure out whether we want to allow a business to benefit from the county’s tab or not.”

Commissioner Rick Brewer noted that McMurray’s service saves the county money because he takes that garbage directly to the landfill. As a result, the county doesn’t have to transport that trash from a convenience center.

According to figures provided by Lilley, in 2015, McMurray dumped 368,000 tons of trash at the landfill.

“We have a problem at the Carters Valley convenience center keeping the Dumpsters unloaded because they get filled up on Saturday,” Brewer said. “If this guy isn’t hauling it to the landfill, then those convenience centers are going to be clogged even more. It’s not costing us any more money because we’re paying for whatever goes out the convenience center. Actually, I look at it that he’s doing us a favor because he’s hauling that much. If it was costing us any more money it would be different, but it’s not costing us any more money.”

Commissioner Mark DeWitte noted that county residents pay their taxes to have use of the landfill, whether they take their garbage personally or pay someone to take it for them.

“It’s residential trash,” DeWitte said. “It’s going to end up in the landfill anyway. He’s providing a convenience for these people, some of which can’t do it. My dad is 91. He still takes his trash to a convenience center. But there’s going to be one day where either I take it or someone like Mr. McMurray is going to take it, and it’s the same trash that would end up there anyway.”

Commissioner Tom Kern told Lilley, “I think it’s been grossly mishandled.”

“I only wish that this committee could have been notified and we could have come to some resolution without having to get our general public upset about the conditions of something that’s not broken,” Kern said. “… We could have come in here and sat down before we get everyone upset about whether they’re going to get their trash picked up or not and get a lot of drama. Because you upset people, you get drama.”

Kern made a motion to maintain the status quo and allow McMurray to continue tipping for no extra charge. The committee will seek legal advice from the county attorney and meet later on this issue.

On Tuesday, Republic Services manager Scott McConnelee sent an email to Mayor Jim Lee expressing the landfill’s position on this issue.

“Currently Mr. McMurray is picking up residential household garbage within Hawkins County and disposing it here at Carters Valley Landfill,” McConnelee said. “He has been afforded the opportunity for many years to use these facilities under the Hawkins County Host Agreement and not incur any charges for disposing of Hawkins County residential trash. In turn, Hawkins County is not incurring any more cost as the residential trash that falls under the Host Agreement would make it here either from one of many convenience sites located around the county, or by the residents bringing it here themselves.”

McConnelee added, “The fees for this are paid for in the taxes that Hawkins County residents pay. Where you could potentially see an increase in cost is if Mr. McMurray or any other hauler brought in non-Hawkins County trash (that) is disposed here under that agreement.”

Two of McMurray’s customers, Scott Rutledge and Alana Roberts, spoke to the committee Friday representing the group. They noted that many of McMurray’s customers are elderly, disabled, or otherwise unable to take their garbage to the convenience centers themselves.

McMurray asked the committee to grandfather him in if it imposed an extra tipping fee for individuals collecting residential garbage. He also presented the committee with a petition containing 275 signatures, as well as 42 letters.

“These people need me and I need to keep my job,” McMurray said.