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Have Lexington County taxpayers been buried in Richland County garbage while waste company makes big

With updated statement from Mayor of Irmo on July 17, 2017 at the end of this article.

Irmo, SC (James Bowers) – Last month, Raleigh, NC based Waste Industries was poised to take over the town of Irmo’s garbage collection at the end of July of this year. The town’s decision not to continue its contract with the current collector Advanced Disposal and instead begin utilizing the services of a new company, was one applauded by many residents of the town and its leadership.

For years, Advanced Disposal, and subsequently the town of Irmo’s elected officials and staff, have been bombarded with complaints about the contractor’s negligent, mistake filled performance. This has also happened with Advanced Disposal in other sections of Lexington County. According to the town’s leadership, they had enough and were ready for a change.

Subsequently, the town decided to award their garbage contract to Waste Industries and were in the process of contract negotiations between the council and representatives from that company’s Columbia office to make the switch. Suddenly, Waste Industries announced that they had miscalculated the cost of performing the service. Irmo Mayor Hardy King says this stems from a misunderstanding with Waste Industries officials regarding the cost of using Lexington County’s landfill to dispose of all of the solid waste from Irmo.

As most know, the town of Irmo has portions of the town which are located in both Lexington and Richland counties. According to Mayor King and other Irmo officials, Advanced had been collecting trash from both sides of the county line and transporting it all to Lexington County’s landfill for disposal. While discarding garbage at the Edmund facility in Lexington County is free for solid waste produced and collected in Lexington County, a cost paid for by Lexington County taxpayers, waste originating elsewhere, in Richland County for instance, is subject to a fee for disposal. King said that apparently Advanced Disposal has not been honestly informing Lexington County Solid Waste personnel that solid waste they were delivering to the Lexington County landfill included large amounts of garbage from the Richland County portion of Irmo, and thus have not been paying the necessary fees to Lexington County.

Despite the fact that Mayor King and others with the town of Irmo says that they had informed Waste Industries officials of the county’s landfill policy several times, that company’s officials say that they were not aware of the real cost of disposing of Richland County waste in Lexington County. Apparently, they had based their estimate for disposal expenses on the past fees that Advanced Disposal had historically paid to Lexington County. In short, Waste Industries assumed that all the necessary fees were being paid by Advanced Disposal. They later found they weren’t.

Discovering that Advanced was not paying Lexington County for disposal of out of county garbage made it necessary for Waste Industries to recalculate its bid figures. At that point, Waste Industries said that they would need to raise their bid for the Irmo solid waste contract from $18.92 to over $20 so that they could do what was right and pay Lexington County to handle the Richland County portion of the solid waste they would collect.

After discussing this revelation, Irmo town leaders decided they had no desire to pass any increase in collection cost to its town’s residents. At this point, King and the town’s other elected leaders, decided to take Irmo’s garbage business elsewhere. That is when they reopened negotiations with the second-place bidder for the collection contract, Tyler Sanitation.

Tyler Sanitation, an Aiken based entity owned by Jim Reed, had placed the second lowest bid during the town’s initial request for bids on the contract. Reed, formerly the owner of Southland Sanitation, a company that had provided waste collection to Irmo residents in the early part of the 2000s, sold that company to Advanced Disposal around 2005.

Initially, Mayor King and the leaders of Irmo had voiced concerns about the possibility that Reed could sell out again sometime in the future to another company and thus begin a repeat of the troublesome events the town has experienced with Advanced Disposal. This was a key factor in the town deciding to bypass Tyler’s initial bid and award the contract to Waste Industries.

Since that time, the town’s leaders have reached back out to Reed’s organization and have had open and frank discussions about their questions, concerns, and expectation s. Now, Irmo leaders say they feel more comfortable doing business with Reed again.

At another meeting in late May, the town council once again raised the issue of offering the solid waste contract to Tyler. Following an executive session, council members voted in favor of awarding the solid waste collection contract to Tyler. Barring any unforeseen events similar to those during the Waste Industries negotiations, the town and Tyler will finalize the contract and shortly after, a new pickup schedule and other important information for residents will be distributed to the public.

Questions still remain about how much Richland County Garbage has been handled by Lexington County over the years that Advanced Disposal has had the Irmo contract. A source inside Lexington County government said that Advanced was supposed to be paying a special fee to Lexington County for all garbage that is collected from the Richland County households of Irmo. According to those sources, who spoke to The Ledger on the condition of anonymity, Advanced Disposal was basically on the honor system to report the amount of Richland County garbage collected and pay the appropriate fees. Apparently, after doing the calculations themselves, Waste Industries didn’t believe that all the necessary fees were being paid.

Irmo town officials have said that their population may be as much as 60% Richland County residents, especially after their aggressive annexation up Broad River Road in the past years. If those “special fees” on Richland County waste have been paid as they should’ve, the amount that would have been collected would reflect that 60%, an amount that could be substantial. If those fees haven’t been paid, and the “honor system” was not honorable, Advanced Disposal could owe Lexington County and its taxpayers, a very large sum as well.

Assuming that Waste Management was correct when they backed out of the contract after accessing the fees paid to Lexington County for Richland County residents' garbage by Advanced Disposal, Advanced has not been paying the fees as they should have. If that’s the case, exactly how much has Lexington County unwittingly subsidized Richland County’s waste disposal over the 12 years that Advanced has had Irmo’s contract? In truth, the amount could be staggering!

On May 18, 2017, the editor of The Lexington Ledger e-mailed the spokesman for Lexington County and asked a number of questions regarding this issue. Those questions included things like: Has Advanced Disposal been paying Lexington County to handle the solid waste they have brought from the Richland County portions of the town of Irmo and how have "they" been keeping up with that? Admittedly, no official FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request was done on that date, but the last line of the e-mail to the spokesman was, “If I need to do a FOIA for this information, please let me know.” He never asked that the FOIA be sent.

On June 6, 2017, another e-mail was sent to Harrison Cayhill, the spokesman for Lexington County, asking about the progress on the questions The Ledger had posed. He answered quickly by saying, “I have still have not heard back from the appropriate department head. I will follow up and see where we are on this matter and will subsequently let you know.” Since that exchange, the staff of The Ledger has sent a formal FOIA request to Lexington County requesting some basic information-like how much Advanced Disposal was supposed to be paying per Richland County household and have they been paying that? As of this writing, Lexington County has not answered.

At this point, who really knows if the taxpayers of Lexington County have been paying to handle Richland County solid waste for free for years. If they have, how did this happen and who should be responsible for paying Lexington County back? Was someone just inattentive or was someone, somehow, somewhere personally profiting from this sleight of hand? If so, shouldn’t someone start looking into this a little closer?

In fairness to Advanced Disposal, several calls to them for comment have gone unreturned. Waste Industries also declined to comment.

Answers from Lexington County regarding this situation have not been received. Once they respond, it may require a follow up story.

Update from Mayor Hardy King of the town of Irmo: Regarding the portion of this story that says "King said that apparently Advanced Disposal has not been honestly informing Lexington County Solid Waste personnel that solid waste they were delivering to the Lexington County landfill included large amounts of garbage from the Richland County portion of Irmo, and thus have not been paying the necessary fees to Lexington County."

Update 07/17/2017: Mayor Hardy King, in an e-mailed statement to The Ledger in July, said that he had never originally told the reporter for The Ledger that Advanced wasn't paying Lexington County. Instead, what he said was, "I never said Advanced Disposal dumped Richland County trash at the Lexington Landfill. My statement was I believed they may have, but did not know for sure one way or the other."

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