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Jackson hopes to end the free ride for out-of-county dumpers

fr trashSuspicions that people are concealing old sofas and worn-out mattresses over state and county lines to dump on the sly in Jackson is irking county commissioners, but stopping the illicit trash smugglers could be tough.

From busted TVs to old recliners, bulky items can be conveniently dumped at no cost at any of the eight roadside dump stations in Jackson County — but only if you’re a resident and taxpayer. 

Jackson commissioners recently expressed their irritation that people from neighboring counties are crossing the county line to take advantage of free trash sites in Jackson.

“They are bringing mattresses and this or that from Macon County because they had to pay $10 or whatever over there. If they can save money, they just come on across Cowee and dump it on us,” said Commissioner Boyce Dietz, bringing up the issue during a county meeting this month. “I understand it’s a problem in Cashiers, too, with people coming over from South Carolina. They think ‘I’ll save a buck and take my washing machine over the line.’”

Commissioner Mark Jones, who lives in Cashiers, said the problem isn’t just with bulky items, but regular household garbage, too. A line of commuters snakes up the mountain to Cashiers from South Carolina every morning, and it’s easy for them to toss their trash at Jackson’s dump sites as they pass through.

The same is true for people commuting to Jackson from Haywood or Macon, said Chad Parker, Jackson’s solid waste director.

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“If it is someone repeatedly coming from a different county to use our facilities, we don’t want that to occur,” Parker said.

What to do about it is another story, however. There’s no easy fix to police who uses the dumpsites.

“There are a lot of complications, which is one reason we haven’t done it in the past,” Commissioner Brian McMahan said. “But there are issues with people from other counties using our sites.”

Jackson isn’t alone. Macon is a victim of trash trafficking, also. But it’s nearly impossible to stop, said Joel Ostroff, Macon’s recycling coordinator.

Communities just over the Georgia and South Carolina line routinely bring their trash to Macon’s roadside dump stations — because it’s closer and cheaper than their own counties.

“I know darn good and well we have people come over from Walhalla — but go prove it,” Ostroff said. 

His advice to Jackson: just let it go, because you’ll drive yourself crazy worrying about it.

“We have adopted a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach because there is no way to control it,” Ostroff said.

For example, not everyone pulling into a dumpsite with out-of-state plates deserves the evil eye, Ostroff pointed out. They could be second-home owners or tourists dumping trash generated in Macon, and thus legit.

“We do have people who complain about people with South Carolina tags and Georgia tags showing up at our convenience centers, but they own property here in Macon County,” Ostroff said.

Most mountain counties — including Jackson, Macon and Haywood — tack an annual trash fee onto residential property tax bills to cover the cost of trash collection and disposal, and thus is paid equally by second-home owners, vacation cabin rentals and the like.

In Jackson County, there’s a sliding scale based on the number of bedrooms, coming out to $84 for a three-bedroom house. Commissioner Charles Elders said it wasn’t fair for Jackson to foot the bill for trash coming in across its borders. 

Charging people to dump at roadside stations would certainly curtail the influx, but commissioners weren’t keen to that idea. The generous “free dumping” policy keeps people from tossing trash in ditches or over the side of a mountain like the old days, commissioners decided.

In neighboring Macon, like Jackson, there’s no cost to dump run-of-the-mill household garbage. But bulky things — from old pianos to broken patio tables — have a fee and there’s only two locations in the county that accept them.

The fee is nominal, however, Ostroff pointed out. A few bucks for a sofa, only $1 or $2 for a TV, and nothing at all for appliances or electronics headed for the recycling stream. For most people, they would spend more in gas money to make special trip to Jackson than they would save.

Ostroff said cross-county trash dumping cuts both ways between Macon and Jackson. Jackson’s roadside dump station in Cashiers is closed on Sundays, so people from Cashiers come across the line to Macon on Sundays.

During their discussion of the trash border issue this month, Jackson County commissioners batted around the idea of issuing vehicle decals to easily identify who was allowed to be use Jackson’s dump sites.

The stickers could be mailed out with property tax bills, ensuring all property owners got them, commissioners said.

But Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten cautioned there would be unintended consequences from a sticker system.

“You can create more problems than you solve,” Wooten said.

What if someone is renting and their landlord doesn’t give them a car sticker? What if someone buys a car part way through the year but already put their trash sticker on their old car? Or what if they have relatives in town who take a trash load for them? Or are vacationing here?

“I hope the attendant would be understanding to say ‘Well next time bring the sticker,’” Wooten said.

“Maybe we issue a whole sheet of stickers so they have plenty of options,” McMahan replied.

Macon County has considered that route before, but you have to weigh the cost of a sticker system with how much you’d really be saving by curtailing out-of-county dumpers.

“We have considered stickers and window hangers but the overall process of getting it done — getting it printed and mailed out and implementing it — is prohibitive,” Ostroff said.

Commissioner Vicki Greene suggested appealing to people’s moral conscious. Maybe people don’t realize it’s unethical to dump their trash in another county if they aren’t paying into the system.

Following the meeting discussion, Parker immediately got to work making up signs for each of the county’s eight roadside dump sites.

“We hope people will follow the honor system,” Parker said.

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