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City Council to study abuse of landfill fees

City Council members will review city codes and council policies before making a decision about fees that are charged to residents who take their own debris to the municipal landfill.

The full council agreed to a three-member study committee last week to tackle what city administrators said is a longstanding problem with those who abuse existing regulations to dump their debris for free, even though they are doing so illegally.

It's an issue that has surfaced several times this spring, including at study meetings when the council was reviewing next year's city budget. Ward 3 Councilman Caleb Davis said there was money to be made from those who are abusing what is now a free dumping policy that is supposed to be used only by Lawton residents who are city utility customers.

The policy

The practice is controlled by a City Council policy that was last amended in 1998. Under the policy, city residents who haul their debris to the landfill are allowed to dump for free if the debris is from their personal residences and meets the definition of brushwood, garbage, refuse, rubbish or trash, or yard trash. City code defines brushwood as large, heavy yard trimmings from heavy pruning or shrub removal with a maximum 4-inch diameter; yard waste is material generated while providing normal maintenance to yards adjacent to residences, excluding rocks, gravel and dirt; refuse is all solid waste, including garbage, rubbish, trash and yard waste; garbage is waste that will decay, excluding sewage and body wastes; and rubbish is garbage, tin cans, bottles paper, boxes and small light wood.

Qualified debris must be taken in the resident's own personal vehicle, to include pickup trucks up to 1 ton, and trailers hauled by those vehicles. Such people must be residents of Lawton, something they must prove via a current city utility bill that reflects a charge for refuse or a current driver's license reflecting an address within the city.

Those who do not meet those restrictions must pay a per-ton tipping fee to dump their debris, just as commercial customers do, with that fee depending on the type of debris dumped.

The problem

City administrators and council members said the problem is those who abuse the privilege: out-of-town residents who use utility bills from Lawton-based friends or family, and commercial businesses that use their private vehicles to pass as residential customers.

Public Works Director Larry Wolcott said that in an average year the city landfill receives 25,079 deliveries under the council policy, equating to 10,578 tons of debris brought into the landfill and dumped without charge. He also said landfill employees have "observed or suspected" that some of those loads actually are being brought in by contractors or those who live outside Lawton, and that is costing the city money.

Wolcott said city staff was asked to look at ways to "close the gap" and has four suggestions: putting the policy into city code to reduce conflicts; deleting the definitions of what kind of solid waste will be accepted, just saying debris will be accepted without charge under these circumstances; requiring those who use the policy to provide both a utility bill and driver's license; and imposing a limit on the number of times residents may dump their own debris for free. Wolcott suggested that the limit on free dumping be six times a year, saying a survey showed six times a year would be sufficient for those who habitually use the landfill (Ward 6 Councilwoman Cherry Phillips said the survey also shows 52 percent of homeowners don't use the landfill at all).

Council members gave the proposals a mixed reception, with most agreeing to the requirement of providing both a utility bill and driver's license, but splitting on the other proposals. But most said something must be done.

Davis, a construction contractor, said people take advantage of the free dumping policy.

"As a contractor, I can tell you, there is widespread abuse," he said, estimating that abuse is costing the city "tens of thousands of dollars" and that half of those who haul their own debris to the landfill under the free system are misusing it. "I know a lot of people dump illegally. I'm in favor of doing something."

Ward 2 Councilman Keith Jackson, a local roofing contractor, agrees people are taking advantage of the city.

The Lawton Constitution

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