State tire fees diverted to general fund

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Illegally dumped tires are a big problem in Georgia, made bigger by a user fee program that's not optimal.

Every time you buy a new tire attached is $1 fee for disposal of your old tire. That's how it's supposed to work. But more and more often tires are being dumped roadside, and the tire fee you paid is going to pay for too many other things.

This is not new - the state collecting fees for one thing but putting the money elsewhere. In fact, I've done an in-depth investigation on this. But here we are eight years down the road and a recent state audit reveals not too much about this tire tax has changed. But come the next General Assembly session you can urge your representative to fix this.

Our SkyFox drone captured a bird's eye view of what you can't see when you drive by a shuttered property in DeKalb County - thousands upon thousands of tires dumped on state property.  

Back on the ground in Southeast Atlanta, more tires, abandoned.  We saw as many as 3,000 tires piled up on a lot at Blackhall Studios which is private property.

The movie studio put up concrete barriers to prevent people from driving in and dumping old tires here. But it was no deterrent.

"People were moving the barriers," said a frustrated Clayton Lindsey, Blackhall Studios facilities director.

Even cameras couldn't catch the culprits who they suspect drove in dump trucks loaded with tires that should have been on their way to a recycling center.
"We had security cameras up on a pole and they seemed to disappear," Lindsey added.

The studio has been fined and ordered to clean them up.  They tell us it'll cost upward of $10,000, out of pocket.  The state's clean up, which comes from the tire user fee fund, is estimated at nearly $50,000.  And this is happening all around the state.

But wait a minute. You, me, all of us pay for tire recycling and clean up. One dollar is tacked onto the price of every new tire we buy and is supposed to be put into Georgia's Solid Waste Trust Fund to clean up illegal scrap tire piles and to fund tire recycling. But a state watch dog group says only about a third of the money collected from you actually goes to these programs.

The Association County Commissioners of Georgia says in the last 10 years 64 percent of tire fees have instead gone to the state's general fund, but the whole program will expire next summer if legislators next session don't renew it.   

Jacqueline Echols, president of the South River Watershed Alliance, is on the front lines.  

"It's an easy fix."

She says, even if we vote to keep the tire fee, even in its current form, there are ways to make sure more of the money goes where it's supposed to go. Make the tire hauler accountable, she says.

"The person that transports the tire actually gets paid on the front end. That pretty much eliminates, well, he's got all of the money at this point, that eliminates the incentive to transport the tires to a recycler that he has to pay to recycle the tires,"

Some back-end accountability she believes would help. A lot.  A recently released state audit shows there is some improvement in enforcement of tire transporters, but more could be done.

Piles of tires are an eyesore; they collect standing water which attracts mosquitoes that carry the West Nile Virus; and, they can be a toxic fire hazard.  

Meantime, tires will continue to be illegally dumped. And while you and I will pay into the clean-up fund, private property owners will still have to pay out of pocket.

"Extremely frustrating. In my opinion, it's theft. They're stealing money from me. Now I'm having to pay for what they should be dumping in a legal place," Clayton Lindsey told us.