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April 5, 2011

 

Officials debate landfill solution

County wants to make operation profitable but others ask at what cost

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

As Cortland County lawmakers draw near to revising solid waste law and deciding whether to hire a marketing consultant for the county landfill, officials are conflicted about the best way to make the solid waste operations profitable.
Some officials favor privatizing operations and expanding the landfill for the greatest profit. Others want a smaller scale answer, keeping the solid waste operations in the county.
Large and small haulers also disagree. Larger companies favor expansion while smaller haulers want only county trash dumped at the landfill.
Jerry “Junior” Contento, who operates a demolition company locally, said he thinks the county is taking the right first step as it changes its solid waste law to allow trash from outside the county.
Contento said the county should make the solid waste operations profitable, rather than just break-even, adding the county should apply to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to increase its permit to allow more than 44,500 tons of trash annually.
The county only takes in about 22,000 tons annually now.
Highway Committee Chairman David Fuller (R-Cincinnatus, Taylor, Freetown and Willet) said Thursday he is confident that if the county can double its yearly intake of landfill trash to about 44,500 tons, the revenue will bring in a surplus of up to $500,000 annually for the county.
County Administrator Martin Murphy wants the county to bring in even more revenue.
Fuller has mentioned using this surplus to help fund the reconstruction of Little York Dam, a project that is slated for construction this year and would cost almost $1 million. The surplus could also help pay for the county’s approximately $16 million communications system upgrade.
Fuller says the $500,000 profit takes into account the annual debt payments at both the landfill and the recycling center.
The surplus would address the county’s $11 million solid waste debt.
Between operations and annual debt service costs at both the county landfill and the recycling center, the county is projected to lose $736,635 this year.
Murphy says the county does not have enough money to be competitive in the municipal waste industry, and would be better off privatizing the operations.
He is awaiting feedback from requests for proposals on leasing the facility.
Murphy says leasing the landfill to a private company, which could take over the county’s debt load and result in a yearly profit of about $1 million by expanding the landfill, might be the best answer for taxpayers.
But Legislator Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville) said profit is not the only consideration. Briggs is concerned about heavy truck traffic, road damage and property values decreasing if the landfill expands.
“I still am very concerned about filling the landfill quickly ... and about the environment and what kind of trash we would be taking, and I know the public is, too,” Briggs said Friday.
While the county heads in the direction of accepting trash from outside haulers, it currently is not planning to implement flow control, which would require all trash generated within the county to be deposited at the county landfill.
EnSol Inc. engineer John Battaglia, the consultant hired by the county to study the landfill debt, has said flow control could solve the county’s debt problem but could be challenged in court.
Briggs and many small trash haulers favor flow control.
Contento opposes flow control and agrees with Murphy that leasing should be explored.
“If it would get us out of debt and generate $1 million in revenue a year, then I think it would behoove all of us to look into it further,” Contento said.
Fuller stresses the changes the county is proposing to its solid waste law do not preclude the county from implementing a flow control law. But Fuller believes flow control would interfere with free enterprise and create a monopoly by requiring all haulers to dump only at the county landfill.
Later this month, legislators will review proposals from marketing consultants. The county will then decide whether to hire a consultant, who would make the landfill and recycling center profitable.
The county’s debt situation exists partly because of two new cells that were completed at the landfill in 2009 at a cost of about $9 million, and a new recycling center that had to be built in 2007 for about $3 million after a fire destroyed the old facility, said Fuller.
Fuller said improper financial planning on the county’s part at the time, using insurance money to offset taxes instead of paying for the construction, is partly to blame for the county’s current fiscal crisis. But Fuller said the county is tied to the commitment it made and cannot drop its debt.
Murphy agreed that quality of life concerns are valid and need to be considered as the county proceeds. But he thinks these pitfalls should be weighed against the benefit of the county being freed of landfill debt and better positioned to borrow money for necessary infrastructure repairs.
“If we can do better than a half million dollars for taxpayers, I believe we ought to because ultimately it is the taxpayers who are paying the bill and the taxpayers who are driving over our roads,” Murphy said.
Contento, who demolished the old Wal-Mart on Route 13, did not dump the debris at the county landfill. He contracted with the lowest priced trucking company, which hauled it to Ontario County.
Waste Management declined to comment on the county landfill.
Other haulers, including Feher Rubbish Removal and Cassella’s, did not return phone calls for comment.

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