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Carter Landfill Committee may be going into partnership with Johnson City Solid Waste Services

John Thompson • Feb 4, 2019 at 11:06 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The city of Johnson City and Carter County could be going into the recycling business together.

That was the main topic of discussion at the monthly meeting of the Carter County Landfill Committee on Monday night. No Johnson City officials attended the meeting, but Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett told the Landfill Committee that he and Landfill Manager Benny Lyons had met with Johnson City officials about recycling.

Barnett and Lyons said they were told that Johnson City will soon be making changes to the Johnson City recycling operations. Those changes might mean a partnership with the Carter County Landfill in which the Carter County Recycling Center, located in the Cherokee Industrial Park, would take over the processing of Johnson City’s recycling.

If the city and county did form a partnership, it would be a union not just of governmental operations but also in a purely business sense. That is because both the Johnson City Solid Waste Services and the Carter County Landfill operate as enterprise funds.

This means that state law requires these services to set user fees at a rate high enough to cover all operating expenses without resorting to taxes. From a purely business standpoint, it might make sense for Johnson City to take advantage of Carter County’s already established recycling center.

The Landfill Committee thought so, as the committee voted unanimously to authorize Lyons to continue negotiations with Johnson City Solid Waste Services.

Johnson City’s interest in working with Carter County was not a reflection on the city’s recycling tradition. Both Johnson City and Carter County are always close to the state’s annual goal of recycling 25 percent of the city’s and county’s total solid waste.

Lyons said that before recycler Omnisource closed its Elizabethton office, the county had a recycle rate of over 30 percent. Johnson City is celebrating the 20th year of its curbside recycling operations.

Lyons said one other thing that encourages Johnson City to work with Carter County is the wildly erratic prices paid for recyclables, an uncertainty that is not figured into the enterprise fund rules. Prices paid for recyclables rise and fall steeply.

A big cost for the county would be labor. Lyons told the committee that Johnson City’s recycling would be so big that it would require the Recycling Center to hire a second shift.

Because of the unstable market, Lyons told the committee that he would offer several options on financing the partnership. He said one way might be a split of the profits, with Carter County taking an 80 percent cut to 20 percent for Johnson City.

Another option might be for the Recycling Center to simply charge Johnson City a bailing fee, leaving the recyclables to Johnson City.

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