The problem has crept into Kent County in the last two weeks, but Mecosta, Montcalm and Newaygo officials have been dealing with it for some time.
The dumps happen mostly at night in rural areas and off dead-end roads. Disposal of the tires represents a safety and health hazard because they can become breeding grounds for West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes.
Police suspect the culprits pose as legitimate haulers hired by small businesses to properly dispose of the tires but, instead, pocket the money and toss them out on back roads.
"This is the worst kind of thief as far as I’m concerned," said Kent County sheriffs Lt. John O’Rourke. "They’re liars, they’re manipulators, and it’s time to bring it to a stop."
Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Ed Doyle said the obvious motivation is to avoid paying the $3 to $5 per tire disposal cost at a landfill or recycling company.
"So far, no one’s seen it, which is amazing," Doyle said. "Hopefully, some tips will come in, because somebody’s got to know what’s going on."
If caught, dumpers could face a minimum misdemeanor charge of as many as 90 days in jail and a $500 fine, O’Rourke said. Violators could face more serious charges if the incident involves more than 50 tires, is a second offense, or if they were found to have tricked a business into thinking the tires were being properly disposed of.
O’Rourke said the problem began in late August in northern rural counties and migrated south into Kent County last month.
On Tuesday, Kent County road commissioners agreed to offer the reward after being told employees already had picked up almost 400 tires in 22 locations, resulting in $2,000 in disposal and clean-up costs.
To date, almost 10,000 tires have been recovered in all four counties, said Kent County Road Commission Maintenance Director Jerry Byrne.
Montcalm County Road Commission Managing Director Randy Stearns said his agency has spent more than $10,000 collecting and disposing of 3,000 tires.
"I think it started in our county and then mushroomed," Stearns said. "We had 500 in two days one weekend. … It’s getting out of control."
Mecosta County Road Commission Managing Director Joyce Randall said, so far, her county is storing the 2,500 tires it has picked up in its gravel pits.
"Eventually, we’re going to have to get rid of them, and that’s going to cost us a considerable amount of money," Randall said.