Recovering Treasure from Trash

March 30, 1994

Considering what has been happening at Carroll County's two landfills, the county commissioners should immediately fill the newly created position of landfill bureau chief and not wait until the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.

The need for a supervisor of the county's landfill operations has become painfully apparent. Employees have been scavenging the landfill for scrap metal to sell themselves, though that metal technically belongs to the taxpayers. And two weeks ago, a man was crushed under a garbage truck in an accident whose cause is still being investigated. While the commissioners may have saved money by not having a landfill chief, the facilities' unsupervised operations have created large problems.

Three county employees are awaiting trial on felony theft charges for taking scrap metal, fixtures and other junk from the landfills and then selling them to recyclers. These three were caught in a state police sting, but apparently other employees were also removing materials from the dump.

Scavenging is a violation of county ordinance. Had there been a supervisor of the landfills, this illegal practice probably would have been stopped. As it is, some employees have the mistaken notion that selling materials taken from the landfill is one of the "perks" of their job. (Carroll County law forbids the scavenging of garbage once it is set out on the curb.)

The commissioners have appointed a task force to determine whether the county should allow people to pick over garbage at the landfill.

This is the wrong approach.

As one of his first tasks, the landfill chief should develop a plan to recover and sell materials from the landfill. Apparently there is a ready market, judging from the returns these employees were making on their unauthorized recycling endeavors.

The commissioners would be doing taxpayers a big favor by trying to get the best price for that scrap. It is quite possible the county could realize hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. It is also quite possible that with good management, the county could develop an efficient, well-run recycling and recovery center at the landfill at minimal expense. The first step is to find a landfill bureau chief with some creative ideas and lots of energy to turn the county's trash into treasure.

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