Bill intended to regulate recycling hurting some small companies
A bill passed last year was intended to crack down on the sale of stolen metals to recyclers.
It also might be bumping some small businesses right out of business.
"We're one bad month away from closing," said Donald Salter, co-owner of Emerson Battery.
Salter and his brother, Ben, inherited the battery recycling and resale business several years ago from their mother. It's been in the family for close to 30 years, but the enhanced checks and balances placed on secondary recyclers have left them on the brink.
The legislation passed by City Council was requested by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office as a way to regulate the recycling industry in hopes of deterring thefts of materials like manhole covers, guard rails, street signs, stainless steel beer kegs, copper wiring and aluminum condensing coils.
For batteries like the ones Salter handles, it's the lead inside the batteries that's been a sought-after commodity, he said.
Before, recyclers had to keep a full description of the materials, along with the name, address and license number of the seller. The updated restrictions require recyclers to obtain "reasonable written proof of ownership," keep the information on hand for five years and have customers pay by means other than cash.
Salter said individuals are restricted to selling two batteries per day.
"Our bread and butter is buying old batteries and selling them for more than they're worth," Donald Salter said. "It's what keeps the lights on."
Car batteries are the most popular, but the company also takes marine, lawnmower and wheelchair batteries, and others. The company usually pays sellers 25 cents a pound for a battery.
Under the legislation, the sheriff's office provides recyclers the monitoring software. But Salter said the recording and storage requirements combined by payment with a check — often requiring check cashing fees elsewhere — have meant sellers haven't been as abundant.
"It's just not worth it. They'll go to less-than-honest recyclers who will buy from them," he said. "We are trying to do everything on the up and up."
Salter said most of the sellers are mechanics that accumulate batteries over time. Others, he said, are longtime customers who they know are honest and have been selling scrap for years.
"Our business is on a handshake more than anything," he said.
The bill is scheduled to sunset March 1, 2015, but Ben Salter didn't wait that long to address the problem.
He met with City Council President Bill Gulliford and council member Warren Jones this month to discuss the drawbacks to the bill and how it has considered him to close the business.
He said Thursday that he doesn't want to change the regulations — he wants to continue to comply — but that allowing, for instance, 20 batteries to be sold at one time without a permit could make the transaction worth the time and money for both the company and sellers. The few dollars gained and lost during the now-lengthier transaction process isn't working.
The fewer batteries the company is able to purchase, the less frequent it is able to sell 40,000-pound shipments of nonworking batteries to larger recyclers for profit.
Those batteries that are salvageable are refurbished and sold from their 2036 Emerson St. storefront.
Gulliford said Thursday the bill has had unintended consequences for small business owners, a problem he is seeing too often.
"I think we didn't do a very good job anticipating the burdens and consequences," he said. "We didn't go deep enough … and it's put a burden on small businesses."
Jones said he will have a meeting with the Office of General Counsel and the sheriff's office to hear the other side of the story to make clear any issues.
"It was never our intent that any businesses would be closed," Jones said.
If it's determined there is a problem, Jones said he could draft an amendment with city attorneys and the sheriff's office before meeting with the small-business recyclers to ensure their concerns are addressed.