The average county employee does his or her job and does it well, but in the Collin County Public Works Department, employees don’t just settle for a day’s work well done. Instead, they use their combined skills to save taxpayer dollars and eat away at county challenges — like the tens of thousands of illegally dumped tires the county collects along roadsides, creeks and lakes each year.
Tires, Tires Everywhere
As part of its efforts to make Collin County litter-free, the county increased its clean-up efforts along its 600 square miles of rural land. Each week, public works employees collected truckloads of litter, discarded furniture, home renovation supplies, landscaping materials and old tires.
The county could dispose of most of the items fairly easily and cost-effectively at the landfill, but the tires represented a financial cross the county struggled to carry. The North Texas Municipal Water District charged a $5 to $20 disposal fee per tire, or about $500 per ton. Unfortunately, tires were everywhere — county clean-up crews were hauling in three to eight tons of tires each month — 40,000 to 50,000 tires a year — from illegal dumpsites. The county’s clean-up efforts were costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars each year in tire disposal fees alone.
The only way around the tire disposal fee was to shred the tires before they got to the landfill. Doing so would drop the cost per ton from about $500 to just $31. The county looked into purchasing a commercial tire-shredding machine to see if it could offset costs. The answer was ‘no.’ A commercial machine costs anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 and just wasn’t something the county could afford.
But public works department team members weren’t satisfied with the answer.
“When I first came here, they were paying to have the tires chopped up and all that, and I asked my supervisors about wouldn’t it be better to just have your own cutter? And they said, why, you think you can build one? And I told them I thought I could,” said public works employee Tony Todd, adding that he and others on his team build and restore vehicles in their spare time. “A few of us got together and started to work on it.”
Public Works Department Director Jon Kleinheksel said that at first, he didn’t believe his team was serious about the endeavor.
“To be honest, I was semi-incredulous. I didn’t think that we could do it,” he said. “But the guys took off and absolutely did it.”
The employees researched commercial tire shredders and drew up some rough plans. They found most of the parts necessary to build their own machine — including some angle iron, steel plating, metal mesh and a water pump trailer — from the county’s surplus supplies. They then asked to purchase a hydraulic pump and cylinder and some special steel for the blades, which the county readily agreed to, to the tune of just $2,200. They also obtained a 24-horsepower gas engine to power the machine.
“We had different people from different trades and everybody was kind of working together,” Todd said.
Within a month, the team’s vision was a reality. They named it the Tire Shark, and as of May, it has cut more than 21,000 tires in half, saving the county more than $100,000 in tire disposal fees.
“It’s a novel approach, it’s something new,” Kleinheksel said. “It’s tangible money that we are saving and I think it shows the taxpayers that we are thinking about what we can do to make (county government) better and actually save money.”
He added that he couldn’t be happier with the machine, but even more importantly, with his team’s creativity, drive, resourcefulness, inventiveness, skill and initiative.
“They are an ingenious bunch,” he said. “It was incredible that they literally designed and fabricated this machine. … I mean, it’s something to be proud of. Everywhere we go, people stop and look at it. It’s a major coup for Collin County.”
County Judge Keith Self couldn’t agree more.
“This is a perfect example of our employees taking their initiative in their own hands and developing a solution for a major problem,” Self said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team that put this piece of equipment together.”
A Clean Campaign
The Tire Shark is just one small part of a successful campaign the county started several years ago to double down on its efforts to curb illegal dumping.
The campaign began through the creation of a partnership between the county’s sheriff’s office and the public works department, which was cleaning up nearly 2,000 illegal dump sites a year.
“A lot of it was along the shores of our primary water source, which is Lake Lavon,” Self said. “That endangers our citizens. We had to do something about it and it had to be a consolidated effort across the county to make it work.”
The effort included creating an illegal dumping hotline, educational campaigns, grant-funded public service announcements, funding an environment enforcement deputy position and prosecuting those found guilty of contributing to those dumpsites.
Environment Enforcement Deputy Lee Howe, whose office is at the public work’s department, said his job often has him searching in the cushions of dumped sofas and pilfering through piles of landscape materials while looking for clues that can lead to suspects. Often, the dumpsites become infested with rodents or snakes, which are hazards of the job. After the investigation, he marks the garbage with spray paint so that the site isn’t reported twice. The public works department usually cleans up the site two days later.
If Howe finds evidence that leads him to a suspect, the suspect — be it a resident or a commercial company — must either clean the site up or pay a hefty fine.
“I like educating the illegal dumper on what he or she has done to our county, to our roadside. It belongs to everyone,” Howe said, adding that the county’s increased focus on prosecuting dumpers means that dumpers are more likely to pick the site up themselves. “The taxpayers won’t be out any money on these cleanups if we can find a suspect.”
The county also opened eight new recycling centers and started a monthly citizen’s collection day, when residents can bring brush and bulky items to the landfill for free. Approximately 1,000 residents take advantage of that opportunity each month, Kleinheksel said.
The number of illegal dumpsites in the county has decreased to about 400 as a result of the efforts, Kleinheksel said.
“We’ve made a huge headway into the problem of illegal dumping in this county,” he said.
How said he believes the county wouldn’t have made the strides it’s made without the partnership between the two departments.
“Working hand in hand, we can get out to the site faster, get them investigated faster and get them cleaned up faster,” Howe said. “We are constantly looking for ways to better our job and do our job better and just work together, and I think this partnership exemplifies that. I’m proud to be a part of that.” ✯