By Greg Bird
Todd Hopper, owner of Poff Carting spoke with the Voice about some concerns raised by politicians on the campaign trail this spring in an attempt to clear up some misconceptions and misinformation being disseminated among the residents of McCreary County.
Issues such as the contract between Poff Carting and the county, use of the Transfer Station and enforcement of the mandatory collection have been on the forefront of many campaign speeches, and not all of it is correct or accurate, he said.
“Overall, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the growth in McCreary County,” he said. “We are growing at a small pace, but people are still coming to us to sign up for service.”
When Poff Carting took over service from Scott Solid Waste in January there were only 2,900 customers signed up for service. Five months later that number has grown to 3,800, but it is still short of the minimum number needed for Poff Carting to pay a franchise fee to the county.
According to the contract if 4,200 residential customers have signed up for service, Poff Carting would pay 5.5 percent of collections back to the county as a fee. If the subscribers grow beyond 5,200 that fee increases to 6.5 percent.
Growing the subscribers is a necessity for both Poff Carting and McCreary County, Hopper said.
“Obviously, it costs us money to operate, and we need to generate revenue to cover the costs,” he said. “And the more people that sign up means money back to the county in the form of franchise fees.”
To get those numbers up, Hopper encourages the county to enforce its own laws. The benefit of doing so would not only be for Poff Carting, but the County as a whole as well, he said.
“It would be in the county’s best interest to enforce the ordinance,” Hopper said.
With a larger participation rate Poff Carting would make more money, but it would encourage Poff to potentially offer lower rates to customers when it is time to negotiate a new contract. He noted if participation rates had been higher at the time the contract was bid out, Poff Carting would have been able to offer even lower rates.
What has been a major issue is the term “mandatory.” Many people have complained about the ability for the county to force them to subscribe to garbage service, but that practice is commonplace across Kentucky…and actually has been in McCreary County since the early 1980’s. The last ordinance under which Scott Solid Waste operated contained clauses for penalties for non-compliance with the law, but was never enforced.
“Waste collection has been mandatory in McCreary County for quite some time,” Hopper said. “This is the first time there has been a penalty associated with it.”
McCreary County Judge Executive Doug Stephens said Wednesday that fines and penalties have always been part of the county garbage ordinance, but this would be the first time there would be actual enforcement of the law.
But Poff Carting isn’t in charge of prosecuting or enforcing the ordinance; that duty belongs solely to the county according to the contract. Hopper says his office submits a list of verified addresses, where an occupied residence has not subscribed to the service, to the Judge Executive. By the terms of the contract the county is to send a letter to the address notifying the occupant of the ordinance and asking them to sign up for service. If that is unsuccessful, the county can then pursue legal action, facing a fine of up to $500.
Judge Stephens said no letters have been sent, but he has personally contacted some of the individuals who were identified as not having service and encouraged them to subscribe.
Hopper said the county doesn’t necessarily want to prosecute, but the threat of possible legal action can be used to urge the offender to sign up for service. If they do, there would be no penalty.
Much has also been said on the campaign trail concerning the lack of availability of service at the Transfer Station in Stearns, and the cost of bringing waste to the station.
Hopper said the cost to operate the station is very high, and actually loses money for them as well, but they agreed to do so once a week as part of the contract negotiations.
Judge Stephens noted in the last year of their extended contract Scott Solid Waste refused to operate the Transfer Station as well as keeping a local office open. The County picked up the duty, which lost more than $3,000 a month in operations cost.
“People don’t understand that this is not a money making operation,” Hopper said. “We have manpower costs and we have to haul the waste to the landfill. Everybody seems to want that for dirt cheap, but you can’t make money at that. But we made a commitment to operate it at least one day each week.”
Hopper added in the first months of operating the station it cost his company about $1,500 to dump the waste at the landfill while taking in only about $500 in dumping fees.
Other concerns have been the possibility of a price increase if fuel costs rise above a certain limit. Such clauses are typical in such contracts, but Hopper notes that would be a once-a-year issue, and it could have been much stricter.
“Our only increase we have the potential for is if fuel costs rise above $3.50 a gallon,” he said. “Most contracts have a consumer price index raise written in, so consumers would see an increase every year. We don’t have that.”
Scott Solid Waste’s last contract had a nearly identical clause, granting them the right to raise their rates at least once a year if costs rose for them.
Some candidates have commented on the contract between Poff Carting and McCreary County, calling it a “bad contract” and “illegal.” Hopper dismisses such claims, noting it is fair to both sides and contains clauses that protect both parties from wrongdoing.
“Our contract was negotiated in good faith, in a professional and calm manner,” he said. “Both sides gave a little and it protects both sides. It is ludicrous to me that some people think we have an unfair contract.”
“If we were in breach of contract, which I do not believe we are, the county would have to inform us and we would have a chance to correct the issue. If there has been a breach, we have not been contacted.”
Judge Stephens agreed that he sees no breach of contract, and believes it is a very fair and competitive document.