Solid waste claims it’s hamstrung without cars

Published 11:32 am Thursday, December 6, 2012

CAO director says vehicles belong to his agency


On Monday there were four calls to Lawrence-Scioto Solid Waste Management District about possible dump sites in Chesapeake, Coal Grove and Ironton.

Checking out those sites, tracking down who caused them and taking those individuals to court is part of what the two-county district does.

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But not this week. That’s because they can’t use the four cars, two trailers and litter van they typically use to do that work. Now the question is who owns those vehicles: the solid waste district or the agency that for more than a decade operated the district.

Right now that agency, the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, has the titles to all those vehicles and as of Nov. 30 dropped the insurance coverage it had on them.

“We can’t operate the program,” Dan Palmer, director of the district, said. “It has hampered the solid waste district from doing our program. None of these calls have been investigated. The vehicles are parked. (The litter control operator) has received calls on open dumping to pick up in Chesapeake, Proctorville and Ellisonville. We are unable to clean.”

Without the titles to the vehicles the district can’t insure them itself.

But D.R. Gossett, the director of the CAO, calls those vehicles unrestricted assets and says they belong to his agency, not the solid waste district. Keeping them was a decision, he said, that was made by the CAO board at its Nov. 20 meeting.

On Nov. 12 the solid waste district broke ties with the CAO that had managed the district since the late 1990s after it had run into problems with the state Environmental Protection Agency. Neither Lawrence nor Scioto had a program that met EPA regulations.

The Ohio EPA was starting to create a program when the CAO stepped in with a proposal to the Lawrence and Scioto county commissioners to take over management of the district.

In 2001 the district put on a $12 a year parcel fee on the taxes of each property owner in both counties. That money makes up the majority of the district’s budget.

This year that revenue came in at $640,919. The district also receives grants that go to fund various clean-up and educational programs.

When the district’s board, made up of the commissioners from both counties, voted to sever ties with the CAO, the district became an independent agency. Scioto County manages the money now and the district’s headquarters is in Ironton.

The district’s five employees are now Scioto County employees with county benefits and state retirement. The yearly contract between the district and the CAO was $385,000 out of which the CAO was paid an administrative fee of $8,000 to do payroll and books and an indirect fee of $9,000 to $10,000 for oversight, according to Gossett.

It was out of that $385,000 that the vehicles were purchased.

Gossett calls the cars, trailers and van unrestricted assets and said the current situation was a result of miscommunication and misperception.

“Those vehicles were bought by the CAO, not by the county,” Gossett said. “When we designated (employees) for solid waste, they were CAO employees and the same thing for the assets. They were CAO assets. They paid us for the services to administer the solid waste. All of those dollars were unrestricted dollars.

“It is a fair statement we basically bought those with the money the county had given us. But the county gave us that money for performance with no strings attached. They were happy with the performance, including taking the risk of buying assets and employing individuals.”

Gossett likened the arrangement the solid waste district had with the CAO to any contract an outside agency would have with a government entity.

“If you have a contract with the city or county, you have to have equipment to perform,” he said. “When the government no longer employs you, they can’t take the assets used to perform the contract.”

Right now all vehicles have been parked at undisclosed locations by solid waste employees, where Palmer says they will remain for the time being.

“It is very frustrating and upsetting,” Palmer said. “I am not turning (the vehicles) over and I am seeking legal advice.”