Beaufort County soon might require residents to buy a windshield decal to drop off their household trash and recycling at county-owned dump sites.
The decals are necessary to regulate who enters the facilities amid a spike in illegal dumping of trash and yard waste at the Simmonsville Road and Pritchardville sites in the Bluffton area, county administrator Gary Kubic said.
"We are reviewing options to ensure Beaufort County residents are the only ones using the centers, because they are the ones paying for the service," said county administrator Gary Kubic. "If more of these non-county residents continue to use the centers, it's going to raise taxes for the Beaufort County residents."
There is no data indicating who's dumping illegally, but county officials believe Sun City Hilton Head residents living within Jasper County are part of the problem.
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Kubic said the decal fee likely would be "nominal." He suggested residents might obtain one by paying an extra dollar or two on their annual property-tax bill. Those who don't want the service wouldn't have to pay for it.
The county operates 11 dump sites, most of which accept recyclables such as newspapers, glass and plastic. All accept household trash and yard waste.
Although most of the sites are staffed by county workers, there is no method to determine whether users are residents. The sites are funded largely by property taxes residents already pay.
Jim Minor, county solid waste manager, realized there was a problem three months ago when vehicle counts at the Simmonsville center rose from an average of 30,000 a month to nearly 38,000.
"It's an unexplainable trend from the county's viewpoint," Minor said. "We have also received information that this new section in Sun City that is in Jasper County, that some of those folks are coming to use (Beaufort County's) facility."
Beaufort County spends $4.5 million a year on solid waste programs, and the dumps account for a sizable chunk. The county does not track their costs individually, Minor said.
Although a few illegal users can be absorbed, there could be consequences if the problem goes unchecked, he said.
For instance, more than 200 cars an hour pass through the Simmonsville center on weekends, creating safety problems. And with so many users, trash and recycling bins can fill up too fast.
"If we continue to grow and as traffic volumes continue to increase, we may get to a point where (trash) exceeds operational capacity of the facility," he said.
There is also additional cost for residents if the bins fill up with junk from nonresidents. The county pays $65,000 a month to transport trash and an additional $42 per ton to dispose of the waste at the Hickory Hill landfill in Jasper County owned by Waste Management.
Councilman Steve Baer of Hilton Head Island said he just learned of the decal proposal last week.
"If the fee is small to just cover the sticker, and if it stops what are said to be a significant number of illegitimate users, than I'm OK with it," he said.
Kubic has not formally introduced the plan to County Council. After that happens, it's unclear when it could take effect. If the plan is ultimately approved by council, it would likely take months to roll out.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.