Truck wash owes city $240,000Published 1:28pm Saturday, April 6, 2013
A local truck washing company will stay closed after the Austin City Council decided last week G&R Truck Wash needed to pay $240,000 in waste charges owed to the city before it can reopen.
Garth Carlson, G&R owner, went before the council during its April 1 work session requesting the city allow him to reopen his business. G&R has run afoul of city sewage requirements for several years, mainly through putting excess amounts of strong waste into the city sewer system. In February 2012 the council gave Carlson 90 days to pay all outstanding sewage and strong waste charges, and ordered G&R work with the city on an individual control mechanism agreement, as well as lower its waste discharges into the sewer system.
Rather than miss a May 7 deadline to meet those requirements, Carlson voluntarily closed the business. G&R has remained closed since May 1, 2012.
Carlson told the council he put in a new waste pretreatment system, the third such system at the truck wash, as the previous two units didn’t work. He said the system was tested by engineer firm Bolton & Menk, Inc., at G&R’s Waterloo, Iowa location, and the chemical treatment showed waste levels would fall below the city’s waste standards.
Public Works Director Steven Lang said Carlson has yet to address any of those problems. In addition, Lang told the council the city is concerned G&R doesn’t have a suitable payment plan in place, and has collected a large amount of waste-covered sawdust on the western edge of the property, which G&R should have removed. Lang said the city has received several complaints over the sawdust pile’s smell, which is essentially compost from trucks carrying hogs and hog waste from Hormel Foods Corp.
Yet city officials admitted they overcharged G&R bill by almost $88,000 because of a duplication error between Austin Utilities and the city’s wastewater treatment plant, so the council reduced G&R’s outstanding fees from about $324,000 to $240,000.
Carlson tried to persuade the council he had corrected his waste issues and would cart the excess sawdust off the property. In addition, he told the council he had enough cash flow to start paying off the debt after raising prices, which he said he should have done in the first place.
“My prices were just breaking even,” Carlson said. “Law of business, you don’t want to raise prices to piss off your customers, but lesson learned. I guess you need to raise prices and lose a few customers in order to be profitable. So I’d say I messed up.”
He further explained he was looking into another truck wash company, which is only charged 90 percent of its sewer bill in another community, as an estimated 10 percent of the water used leaves the business with the semis. By Carlson’s estimate, he would stand to decrease his debt by another $50,000 to $60,000 if he can prove he and other truck companies aren’t putting water they used back into a municipal sewer.
“I’m going to present you data that the 10 percent [isn’t] going back to you guys and more, so I should be credited 10 percent for all my excess payments since we opened,” Carlson told the council.
Lang said the city may work with Carlson to lower his bill, but reminded council members similar Austin businesses do not get such a discount on their bill.
“It’s a big jump to say we’re going to be reducing that [bill by] 10 percent,” Mayor Tom Stiehm said.
Though council members were willing to allow Carlson to pursue his water usage research, they were unmoved by Carlson’s arguments.
“We’ve worked with you as much as I think we can allow,” council member Jeff Austin said.
Carlson tried an emotional appeal to the council by saying if he were forced to shut G&R down in Austin for good, the area would lose jobs and city officials wouldn’t be repaid, as local banks have the first lien on the business.
“I think the council has been more than fair in the years that have gone by with G&R Truck Wash,” council member Steve King said. “I don’t know that I have much more tolerance other than I think it’s pretty much fair and clear what we offered … in 2012. I just can’t see giving any more.”