Lee County Launches New Curbside Trash Cart Service for Residents | Local News

Tuesday marks the beginning of the end of a system that has made Lee County a tough one among Alabama’s 67 counties; it is the latest to retire the use of dumpsters in favor of a long-desired switch to roadside carts. It also means the end for business owners like Willie Philpot.

The distribution of garbage carts this month spelled the end of Philpot’s business, ViroTek, a service in which he collected trash from Lee residents in carts bearing his company’s name, transporting it to a waste management site in Salem. But with residents being required to pay a monthly fee for new county carts, ViroTek and several other such companies have become obsolete.

“The county is telling everyone they could keep the current vendors — ViroTek and the other guys — but they’re still going to charge residents their fees,” Philpot said. “No one will pay twice for the same service.”

Lee residents on unincorporated land outside the city limits of Auburn, Opelika, Smiths Station or parts of Phenix City in Lee County will be charged $18.50 for the first two years of trolley service, the same amount they paid for access to the 15 county dumpsters that have been in existence since 1984.

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The county awarded a contract to Arrow Disposal Services of Abbeville, Ala., in October to provide a direct waste collection service with approximately 19,000 carts to ship. Gentry Shows, vice president of marketing for Arrow Disposal, said about 98% of the total carts were dispatched on Friday.

“We are excited about this opportunity and look forward to providing service to the citizens of Lee County,” Shows said. “We’ve been lucky enough to have all the staff, (and) we have drivers and we’ve been training for the past two weeks.”

But for Philpot, Friday was the last day he picked up litter, and as a one-man operation he worries about his future and how he will support his family. He said his biggest frustration is that he can’t maintain his existing customer base, which

will need to pay for county service through Arrow Disposal.

“I’ve built relationships for eight years and have homes where I’ve provided door-to-door service for seniors,” Philpot said. “With the dumpsters sent, I lost 55% of my business in the space of two or three days.”

He said at the height of his service, he had about 500 customers ranging from Loachapoka to Valley. He was proud of his knowledge of local routes and said Arrow Disposal didn’t seem interested in working with him as the company began serving Lee County.

However, Shows said Arrow contacted waste haulers who he said were uninterested in the job and wanted to try to keep their customers. He said the company cannot contract existing companies to help Arrow continue their work.

“It becomes an insurance issue (because) if you don’t own the trucks, it’s hard to make sure they’re properly covered,” Shows said. “We have hired seven drivers, but none are local.”

Financial leak

Lee County officials said while they understand Philpot’s plight and how the transition to county carts could end private waste hauling companies, the move was necessary because the dumpster system was a serious financial drain for county taxpayers and had a faulty configuration.

Although the dumpsters were intended only for residents with county property, Probate Judge Bill English, chairman of the Lee County Commission, said it was not uncommon to see businesses using dumpsters for free.

“Over time what’s happened is people have really gotten used to the idea that whatever you have to throw away, you can just take it to these dumpsters and throw it away” , said English. “People out of county and out of state used the dumpsters, like businesses in Columbus.”

English recalled situations where a Columbus carpet company dumped truckloads of carpets ripped from homes into county dumpsters, when in other areas they would have had to pay to dispose of their trash.

County Engineer Justin Hardee said the idea of ​​hiring new staff to run the dump sites and make sure people use them properly was considered at one point but ruled out. viable.

“With about half of the sites we have, we don’t own the property, and in some of the ones where we do own the property, we can’t fence them off,” he said. “If you can’t physically fence them off, you’ll have to watch them 24 hours a day.”

Hardee said it was not just a financial issue, but also a safety and liability issue. He recalled instances of people climbing into dumpsters and getting stuck.

“One in particular happened in the middle of summer where a man fell while trying to retrieve something, couldn’t get out, and was nearly dehydrated,” Hardee said. “That’s one of the many reasons I can give as to why this system needs to go.”

Hardee added that dumpster fires have been another issue, endangering people and surrounding property as well as the time and resources of volunteer firefighters.

Demographic boom

However, the main reason for the current transition is population growth. English and Hardee said the number of people living in Lee County has long exceeded the capacity of the dumpsters and county employees responsible for collecting trash.

“Our population 35 years ago was less than half of what it is today,” said English. “In 1980, the population of Lee County was 76,000 people…and today we serve about 100,000 more people with the same 15 sites we started with.

Today, Auburn alone is home to more than 76,000 people according to the 2020 census, and although the city is not included in the county’s garbage system, the lure of the prettiest village has led to more people living in unincorporated Lee County, which is served by the system.

Hardee said it was the job of other non-solid waste departments to help collect the trash, including animal control, recycling and his own highways department.

“The new system is going to have ripple effects on multiple departments in this county that will and should provide better service to citizens,” he said.

Lee County Environmental Services Director John McDonald said county staff worked up to 30 overtime hours over a two-week pay period as more people generated more waste. With people staying home more often during the pandemic, he said, waste generation has increased sharply.

“If you think of 10 hours of work seven days in a row, 70 hours in seven days driving the trucks, plugging in the cans, cleaning up the sites, that’s exhausting,” McDonald said. “Once we remove staff from this schedule, it should absolutely increase employee retention.”

As residents get used to their new carts, the county will phase out the use of dumpsters over the next few months, notifying residents in advance of which ones will be closing and when before they are removed.

Philpot, meanwhile, said he doesn’t know what his future would be like without ViroTek.

“In all honesty, that’s it; it’s my livelihood,” he said. “I understand that there is a big problem with rubbish and with regard to dumps, illegal dumping, but I have done everything correctly. By (Lee County) to contract with Arrow and let them take all my clients that I’ve had blood, sweat and tears to get for eight years is a mistake.

He has only one message for county officials and the county commission: “I’ll see you in 2024.”