Arkansas legislators have asked for Legislative Audit to look into each of the state's 11 scrap tire management districts to determine whether districts are complying with state laws and to review district records.
The Legislature's joint Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee met last week to discuss the state's waste-tire program for the third time since a Pulaski County tire dump caught fire last fall, prompting four volunteer fire departments and crews from several other city, county and state agencies to fight the blaze for several hours.
The request made Tuesday by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, will look into each district's finances, contracts and methods of reporting how many tires they process as Hammer and other legislators question whether the districts are run properly or efficiently. Such a review would provide "unbiased facts" that would help legislators decide how to go forward with any legislation in the spring, he said.
The tire districts are funded by the Department of Environmental Quality but are locally operated. They are funded based in part of the population of the district's coverage area and in part on the number of tires the district reports processing. The districts can apply for supplementary grants from the department in addition to their funding. The department does not have discretion over all of those grants.
The department and some legislators have expressed an interest in changing the laws surrounding waste tire districts to increase oversight and efficiency, although no specific changes have been suggested.
But last year, legislators stripped the Department of Environmental Quality's of its ability to withhold funds from districts, and a representative of one of the districts told legislators that the problem facing his district was a lack of money, not misuse of it.
Hammer said he expects pushback from other legislators against any changes because of some of the districts' stated needs.
"I think we're going to meet some resistance," Hammer said while making his request for Legislative Audit review. The request passed on a voice vote with no dissent.
At the hearing Tuesday, department officials, district officials and legislators discussed whether having 11 districts operating their own programs was efficient and talked about the amount of control the department has over disbursing funds to them.
Department Law and Policy Senior Associate Director Julie Chapman said no other state in the country operates its waste tire program by distributing control to 11 different districts.
Chapman also lamented the department's lack of ability to use discretion in disbursing funds to the districts, noting that financially mismanaged districts such as West River Valley are automatically disbursed funds because of their classification as being in dire straits.
The department also has no discretion on the districts' main source of funding, which is based on the population and processed tires formula. Chapman said many of the districts report processing more tires than are being sold in the district, which could indicate the figures are being incorrectly reported to bring in more funding for the districts.
The state would benefit from a system of tracking waste tires to see where they are coming from and how they are being disposed of, said Rep. Lanny Fite, R-Benton.
Andrew Armstrong, director of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Solid Waste Management District, said in his 10-county district, which has 50 tire collection sites and recycles about 60 percent of its tires, the only problem is a lack of money. His district could recycle more but can't afford the machinery that would better prepare certain tires for recycling, he said.
Arkansas recycled 70.9 percent, or 30,514.59 tons, of its waste tires in 2015, according to the Department of Environmental Quality, up from 61.7 percent in 2014. Tire disposition reports dating to 2008 have varied, with less than 50 percent recycled being reported in 2013 and 70.5 percent recycled being reported in 2009.
Metro on 07/25/2016