Cleaning up Bartow: Solid Waste fights furloughs, maintains safe environment
by Amanda Ryker
Apr 06, 2012 | 1754 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County employee Jimmy Eugene Bennett Jr., left, operates a bulldozer while the 88,000-pound trash compactor on the right is run by Ricky Mullinax at the county landfill where 275 tons of trash a day is processed. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Bartow County employee Jimmy Eugene Bennett Jr., left, operates a bulldozer while the 88,000-pound trash compactor on the right is run by Ricky Mullinax at the county landfill where 275 tons of trash a day is processed. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
* Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series that will look at Bartow County’s budget by department.

Litter pick-up crews may be seen more frequently as clear skies allow them to retrieve trash from the sides of Bartow’s roads and the solid waste department continues to dispose of the county’s waste on a slightly decreased budget.

With 11 collection centers within eight miles of every citizen in the county and a recycling center, it would seem as though litter should not be a major problem. Yet thousands of bags of trash are picked up every year.

“Last year we picked up a total of 930 miles, which equated to 4,574 bags of garbage, which equates to 27.5 tons of litter,” Solid Waste Director Ripley Conner said. “Each bag weighs about 12 pounds [and litter can be] cans, illegal dumping, fast food containers, all that stuff.”

Work detail prison crews are used for picking up litter, but Conner has a line in his budget for the service.

“Essentially what we do with [that line] is pay the guard’s annual salary and they’re able to provide the watch for the work detail,” Conner said, explaining the $125,000 cost that is divided among three guards. “So, we get seven or eight pairs of hands for the price of one guard, which helps us out tremendously.”

Litter has been a problem throughout the county and Conner has a couple of ideas that could explain the issue.

“It’s kind of funny with the litter pick-up crews. People will see them on the side of the road and will start cleaning out their cars or people will bring it out of their houses,” Conner said. “Or we get a lot of people that are taking stuff to a collection center and there’s garbage in the back of their trucks. If they don’t have a tarp, it blows out, gets on the road, gets hit by cars and scatters everywhere.”

Although the department handles litter control, the collection sites are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. All sites are closed today in observance of Good Friday.

The recycling center’s hours are listed on the website as Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to noon. Items that can be taken to the center are: cardboard boxes, mixed office paper, telephone books, magazines, newspapers, aluminum cans, steel (tin) cans, glass bottles and jars and plastic bottles.

The department’s overall budget is set at $2.9 million for the year with nearly $1.3 million of that to be divided between 26 full and 28 part-time employees. While their fellow county employees in various offices may be taking furloughs, solid waste is handling the hurdle differently.

“We’re doing flextime,” Conner said. “When the furloughs first started, this facility was open for 58 hours a week. We have a two-week pay period, so if an employee took that Monday off and worked on Saturday they still get paid for 40 hours. If he worked the second Saturday, he would be working overtime.

“So we changed the schedule to some of our collection centers. We’re only open on Saturdays for four hours. If an employee works that Saturday, they have to take four hours off the previous week. By doing that, they can take off four hours any day Monday through Friday, two hours over two days, one hour four days or whatever. They had to take that time off before working that Saturday so there’s no overtime. Instead of giving back 224 hours per month, we’re giving back between 800 and 1,000 hours every pay period.”

Employee salaries count for the largest line item in the budget, with professional and other fees coming in at $130,000.

“Those are where we have to hire an outside consultant. They have to have an engineering degree for ground water and all the plans for the landfill,” Conner said. “Also, every year we have to pay the state $1 per ton of garbage that comes in. That fee comes out of there. It’s for little incidentals where I can’t do it all. I do all my own ground water sampling, I do all the reporting, I can sign off on all that. We do a lot of stuff internal so we don’t have to hire an outside entity to do it, but there’s still some times I have to get an engineering firm to draw some plans.

“Last year, the fees that we paid for the state were in excess of $50,000. The way the EPD bills us, they bill us in 2011 for what we did in 2010. So 2010s fees last year were roughly $65,000 and there was another $5,600 for emissions for a Title 5 Air Permit.”

Professional and other fees also would cover any emergency action that would need to be taken in the event of a contamination.

“If one of my wells came up hot with some type of contamination, then I would have to come up with a corrective action plan and measures, meaning I’d have to install additional groundwater wells to delineate the contamination, which way it’s going, do some groundwater modeling to see where it’s going and if it’s going this direction before it gets to a potential receptor, what’s the chemical makeup of that water going to be by the time it gets there,” Conner said. “There’s models for it but it’s all expensive to do. We’re fortunate that we don’t have any of these issues right now, but it’s always a possibility in the future that that might happen and we’ll have to address it.”

Preventing contamination and staying up to speed on environmental regulations are goals the department strives toward and education and training can help achieve that objective. Although the department has a mere $1,000 for education and training, operators are able to obtain their required certification.

“We have to have a certified landfill operator on site every minute we’re open and they have to either go for 30 hours of continuing education or they have to go back every five years for a refresher course to bring us up to date on new regulations,” Conner said. “When new storm water things came out, there was a mandatory meeting at UGA where they bring us up to speed with new regulations.”

Stone and gravel and hydroseeding are added into the budget to help with traffic flow in and out of the landfill and to keep the garbage covered. Hydroseeding accounts for $10,000, while the stone and gravel line is set at $20,000.

“We’re constantly moving dirt. We have to cover the garbage and we have to try and stabilize all of our slopes,” Conner said. “There’s at least 250 feet of relief out here, so you’re constantly battling soil erosion. We’re always trying to take care of that.

“When it gets muddy in the landfill, like if we get a 3-inch rain, the trucks going in are driving in mud. It makes it sloppy and it gets stuck. We put it down in the landfill so people can have access to the working phase during times of inclement weather. Most of it is to make roads in the landfill.”

With several pieces of large machinery as well as pickup trucks used by the department, repairs are needed throughout the year. Repair and maintenance cost on heavy machinery is budgeted at $75,000.

“We have rainfill compactors that weigh about 88,000 pounds, we have bulldozers, articulated dump trucks, a track hoe, an excavator, we have roll-off trucks, pickup trucks, we have the bailer down in the recycling center, stationary compactors at the collection sites, a knuckleboom, [etc.],” Conner said. “Over the course of time, we don’t have the category improvement in place to be able to replace these items as we go along. Fortunately we get a lot of these through SPLOST funds that come in. That’s been the thing to save us. The only bad thing about it is five years out you have to predict what kind of equipment you think you’ll need.”

The solid waste budget takes into account payments for several fees, but the department also collects funds.

“We have commercial haulers coming in here from their companies all throughout the county and they dump it here,” Conner said. “The city of Cartersville, Emerson, Kingston, they all bring their solid waste here, too. It’s a good source of revenue for the county.”

The service is free to residents up to 1 ton per load to the landfill.

“We have to limit how much people can bring to the compactor sites. It’s not fair for someone to bring five huge loads from their house to the compactor site, fill up one of those bins then no one else can dump,” Conner said, noting that large loads can be taken to the landfill. “If they bring it here, they get their first ton free per load. So, if they bring in five loads and they all weigh 1,900 pounds a piece, they still get free disposal here because they’re Bartow County residents. We don’t get anyone from out of county.”

The landfill accepts construction debris that cannot be taken to compactor sites. Yard waste, such as trees and other vegetation, can be taken to the INERT facility. Tipping fees are listed on the county’s website.

While the recession has hit several departments in a negative way, solid waste still is able to offer the same service as before the economic downturn.

“We’re still operating,” Conner said. “Our services are still where they were before all the furloughs started, granted some of our collection centers aren’t open as long, but I think once people got used to our new hours we’ve been able to still keep those services up.”