By Janie Southard
WAPAKONETA -- Garbage hauler Mike Maharg of Celina says Auglaize County Commissioners are dictating where he can take trash by enforcing the county's $9 per ton generation fee, which is the second highest of all Ohio's counties.
Commissioner Hugh Core says, "We have no preference where you take it as long as our fee is collected."
Whenever a trash hauler unloads, a generation fee must be paid back to the county where the trash was collected to help with various programs, such as recycling. Auglaize County charges $9 per ton.
Maharg claims an average charge in Ohio is about $4 per ton for generation.
"It's all about money for them. But I say this is America, the land of free enterprise, and they're interfering with my right to make a living," Maharg said. The Celina trash hauler, who has been in business 20 years, is hauling trash from his routes in New Knoxville and New Bremen, villages with whom he has contracts, to a landfill in Jay County, Ind., where the Auglaize fee is not collected. The commissioners have contacted that landfill staff and requested they collect the fee, but the Indiana group has refused.
"It's interstate commerce and (the Indiana landfill) can't regulate it," Maharg said following a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Auglaize County Solid Waste Management District.
Core pointed out the landfill near Fort Wayne, Ind., will collect the Auglaize fee with no trouble. "All the haulers in the county pay the fee with no trouble, except you," Core said.
At the end of the meeting, Core said, if necessary, the commissioners will begin the procedure for a public meeting to establish designated landfills. This means haulers can only deal with landfills who vow they will collect the county's generation fee. For his part, Maharg at one point said he'd need time to alert his customers of the changes and offered Jan. 1 as a deadline. Later he said he could not "commit to anything at this time."
Stan Wietholter and Wayne York, village officials representing New Knoxville and New Bremen respectively, said an increase of about 10 cents per bag would not be objectionable to residents. (In 2004, New Knoxville residents bought 18,640 bags for trash and in New Bremen that number was 78,040, Wietholter and York said.)
Core commented that if Maharg would pay the fee himself, there wouldn't need to be an increase to customers.
Maharg services 17,376 Auglaize County households and believes a fair plan would be for the commissioners to assess every household a monthly fee of $2 to be paid with their taxes.
Waste district board member and Wapakoneta city manager Rex Katterheinrich said he did not believe that type of charge is legal on the tax duplicate.
"And, I can tell you from experience, it would cause a huge collection problem. I guess you've all seen the lists of people in the newspaper who do not pay their taxes," he said.
After the meeting, Maharg told The Daily Standard his final cost per ton is $52.25, which he said includes a variety of separate fees.
Dave Reichelderfer, coordinator for the Auglaize County solid waste district, commented later when he heard Maharg's costs that "they're not bad."
Many counties on the East Coast are charging fees of $90 per ton and more, which is why those places are contracting with landfills in Ohio where the rates are much lower, he pointed out.
Reichelderfer explained after the meeting some of the reasoning behind the high generation fee.
"We are a small county (population), and we just can't generate enough trash to operate our programs at the recycling center," he said, highlighting that small counties generate a small volume of trash.
He named about nine different programs the solid waste district supports including recycling of computers, appliances, tires, household hazardous waste (paint, etc.), special event recycling, hiring community groups to help with recycling, etc.
"Community groups like the Scouts, church clubs, 4-H, civic clubs and so forth sponsor recycling efforts and man the (recycling) center on certain days. Last year we paid more than $50,000 to the various groups," he said. "I don't believe we have any extra frills. Our district office is a space about 12-foot by 12-foot at the recycling center."
The $9 stays in the solid waste management district coffers. They are not mingled in with any other county funds, according to the waste management district coordinator.
There are three ways the district is funded: the generation fee, the sale of recyclables, and grants.
"In the past we have had as much as $44,000 in grants from Ohio Department of Natural Resources. With all the state cuts this year, I don't look for a lot of grant opportunities. In fact, we haven't even received any applications yet, which is unusual," Reichelderfer said.
His operation's 2004 numbers show a small carry-over of about $18,000, which enabled the commissioners to keep the generation fee at $9/ton, rather than increasing it to $10/per ton as is permitted in the original resolution.