BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission voted Monday to end a curbside brush pickup program, giving the Sullivan County Highway Department permission only to try and clear as many as possible of the hundreds of service requests already on file by no later than June 30.
The service has only been available to some, not all, county taxpayers — even though the highway department is funded by property taxes paid by all.
Trees and debris that are felled by storms and blocking county roads or rights of way will continue to be removed by the highway department.
The service has never been listed as a line item in the county’s budget — in or out of the highway department’s accounts.
County Commissioner Dwight King, lead sponsor of the resolution to end the service, said it has been costing the county about $200,000 per year.
State law permits the highway department to provide the service if two criteria are met: The County Commission approves that as policy; and the county “reimburses” the highway department fund from elsewhere in the county budget, King said.
“It should be under public works,” King said. “There needs to be a line that shows the money being reimbursed.”
King said the county has never kept track of what was being spent on brush pickup and never made the necessary budget transfers to reimburse the highway department.
King said while his biggest concern is the $200,000 cost of the service, he cited several other reasons brush pickup shouldn’t continue under the highway department including: Residents on state routes or those whose homes are on roadways annexed by cities don’t have any chance at getting the service; and the “gray” area over the legality of the service, without “reimbursement” from the county.
Interim Highway Commissioner Terry Shaffer said the service has sort of gotten out of control, with his department getting 500 or 600 calls per week seeking brush pickup.
Prior to the commission’s vote on the issue, Shaffer displayed hundreds of paper slips, each representing a request for service.
Both Shaffer and King have said the program has been abused in many cases — with people hauling brush from other locations, and more so with paid contractors leaving brush at the curb and depending on the county to pick it up.
The service has been intended only to pick up brush residents have cleared themselves. Paid contractors are supposed to dispose of trimmed trees, limbs and brush — not leave it at the curb.
Shaffer said it is often difficult, however, to prove who trimmed brush.
But the sheer volume of requests led him to believe brush is being brought to county rights of way from outside the county — and possibly from outside the state.
About two years ago, the County Commission voted to OK curbside brush pickup — on county right of way — with many commissioners then describing the action as a vote to continue or reinstate an existing service.
Then-Highway Commissioner Allan Pope said his workers would only provide the service for debris that results from residents’ own work — and would not pick up leaves, brush, limbs or tree parts produced when a resident has hired someone to cut the items and drag them to the curb.