Repeal of trash regulation could mean financial pinch for Horry residents in long run

01/28/2013 5:37 PM

01/29/2013 3:43 PM

If the state legislature repeals Horry County’s controversial trash regulation ordinance during this legislative session, area residents wouldn’t feel a financial pinch right away.

But eventually they will.

The county’s solid waste ordinance - enacted in 2009 - requires all trash within Horry County to be dumped in the local landfill. It is the only ordinance of its kind within the state, and private garbage haulers say it creates a monopoly.

Mike Bessant, governmental affairs director for the Horry County Solid Waste Authority, said there would be no immediate impact to taxpayers if the two bills legislatures are discussing pass and effectively kill the trash regulation ordinance. The reason is because the SWA would first look at reducing its own cost.

Horry County’s tipping fees – the fees paid by trash haulers – are $29 a ton, among the lowest in the state. Bessant has said before that if the county’s trash laws disappear, so will the educational and recycling programs those fees support.

That would be one of the avenues the SWA would look to reduce, Bessant said. However, once their efficiencies go down, they’ll start to feel the pinch.

Bessant used the example of a store owner having to keep someone manning the cash register all day, whether there’s one customer or 500.

“And that’s where we’re going to be at,” Bessant said. “We’re going to have to do the same things we would if we had one customer or 500 customers. And our cost is going to go up as the volume (of trash) goes down.”

When that cost goes up, Bessant said, it will fall back on the taxpayers.

Using industry standards, Bessant said the average residential home will generate 150 pounds of garbage a month. Taking the $29 tipping fee and applying national averages, he said an Horry County home spends about $2.17 a month on disposal charges.

If tipping fees were to increase to around $35 a month, Bessant added, that monthly home disposal rate rises to $2.62 a month.

“When that cost goes up, it affects the property taxes that’s paid for the unincorporated area,” Bessant said.

Horry County leaders are preparing to fight to make sure their ordinance remains intact. County attorney Arrigo Carotti will draft a resolution to give the county administrator directive to explore what legal action may be available to address the legislation -- House Bill 3290 and Senate Bill 203 -- currently pending in the legislature.

Carotti will present the draft resolution to members of the Horry County Administration Committee at their Feb. 15 meeting. If approved, the committee would then send it to full council for a vote.

Carotti said it would be premature to discuss what specific action could be looked at, ahead of presenting the resolution to the committee.

“We’re talking about potential legal action,” he said.

Legal action is what William Clyburn took against the county and its SWA over the trash regulation.

His business, Sandlands C&D and Express Disposal Service, a private garbage hauling company located off U.S. 378 in Marion County, filed a lawsuit against the SWA and Horry County because of the ordinance. The state Supreme Court sided with the county in 2012, and earlier this month the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the ordinance and dismissed the suit.

Clyburn said the company plans to appeal the federal court’s decision.

“It’s deeply impacted it,” Clyburn said about the trash ordinance. He added that 70 percent of his revenue stream has gone away since the ordinance went into effect.

State Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach, has long opposed the county’s trash ordinance. He is one of the supporters of the current bills, as are local representatives Liston Barfield and Alan Clemmons.

Similar bills were introduced in the 2012 legislative session but never passed into law.

So why continue to support legislation to strike down an ordinance the courts have deemed legal?

Hardwick pointed to a specific portion in the federal court’s ruling that states: “This court is not unsympathetic to the plight of the plaintiffs in connection with the claims raised in this case.”

“It still goes back to (Horry County has) police powers and they used them to interfere with legal contracts of small businesses to do business with someone who had a permitted landfill,” Hardwick said. “If they can step on one little guy, they can step on another one. I don’t think that’s what I want my government to do.”

Clyburn said his business has gone from 25 to eight employees because of the revenue loss.

His tipping fees, Clyburn said, are 25 percent cheaper than the SWA’s, at $20 per ton.

Even if haulers saw increased gas prices to come to his landfill, Clyburn said it evens out because of the 10 minutes it takes to get in and out of his facility.

He wants to keep fighting because the trash ordinance represents “a general business question about free enterprise.”

For some members of Horry County Council, the legislature’s attempts to pass the two bills represents an infringement on home rule.

“For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the delegation can all of a sudden decide they can run the waste stream in Horry County better than County Council can,” said Councilman Harold Worley at the Jan. 18 county administration committee meeting.

Fellow council member Carl Schwarzkopf said trash removal is a government function, just like police, fire and EMS.

Mike Ryhal, the new state representative for the Carolina Forest area, attended the Jan. 18 meeting to hear talk about the trash regulation ordinance. At one point, Councilman Gary Loftus asked him why he wasn’t arguing the county’s case in Columbia.

Ryhal explained he doesn’t know the history behind the controversial ordinance and is gathering information from both sides before making a decision on how to vote.

“I want to know this issue inside and out,” Ryhal said.

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