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Dan Hust | Democrat

County Treasurer Ira Cohen, left, speaks to legislators and County Manager David Fanslau (pictured) on Tuesday about his concerns with the new changes to the solid waste user fee.

Waste fees revised; more changes coming

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — January 22, 2010 — County Tax Collectors’ Association President Tess McBeath called it a “nightmare.”
County Treasurer Ira Cohen deemed it “flawed.”
Even Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis termed the revised solid waste user fee system “imperfect.”
Nevertheless, on Tuesday, legislators (minus an absent Frank Armstrong) voted to approve slashing the fee for a range of circumstances – with the promise that a newly formed committee will ponder and ultimately recommend far larger changes to the controversial system.
The following changes will result in new property tax bills being sent out, at the county’s expense:
• Volunteer ambulance corps and fire departments will each pay $84.95 this year, no matter how many parcels a particular organization owns.
Legislator Alan Sorensen was the sole dissenting vote.
• No distinction will be made between commercial enterprises utilizing the solid waste system. Each business will be charged $300 per parcel.
Sorensen dissented.
• Houses of worship and clergy’s residences will pay $84.95 each.
Sorensen was the only “no” vote.
• Veterans’ organizations will be charged $84.95 for every parcel which features a meeting hall “or similar facility.”
Approval was unanimous.
• Camps and bungalow colonies will not face a fee higher than $850, regardless of how many individual units are on the parcel in question.
Sorensen cast the lone dissenting vote.
• Museums and similar cultural facilities will pay $84.95.
All present legislators agreed.
• The county’s 15 townships and six incorporated villages will each pay $850 for their governments’ properties, no matter how much or how little they directly own.
The vote was unanimous.
• Legislators also unanimously approved intermunicipal agreements with the towns of Neversink and Bethel to transport trash from their own transfer stations to the county’s solid waste facilities.
Sorensen said his dissension on four of the seven fee changes was based on his concern that the residential rate of $84.95 isn’t really applicable to certain organizations.
“There doesn’t seem to be a rational basis for assigning the residential rate,” he remarked.
That observation was echoed by Cohen.
“None of it is rational,” he said after the votes.
Cohen had argued to legislators that picking and choosing the groups who will pay less is discriminatory and may not hold up in court.
He noted that the county is using codes designed for the tax assessment system, not this new solid waste user fee. For example, Elks clubs have meeting halls that are classified the same way as veterans’ groups’. Yet local Elks aren’t getting the same consideration.
“What’s the rationale?” he asked, to no response. “... How will assessors handle this?”
“We can’t, and we’re not,” offered Bethel Assessor Marge Brown, who was in the audience. “You can’t separate them.”
Cohen argued that the basis for the fee is not affordability but access, so changing it to help make the fee more affordable for particular groups is inequitable.
“It’s not fair to everybody else who is supporting the system,” he said after the meeting. “... This is not the time for political correctness. This is a time for making tough decisions.”
Legislator David Sager disagreed, arguing that houses of worship “are all small Mom & Pop operations” deserving of similarly small fees.
Rouis agreed, reminding Cohen that most of these groups already receive some sort of special treatment, often in the form of tax reductions and exemptions.
Plus, “there has to be something put in place,” Sager insisted. “... We have to get through this year.”
Besides, added Legislature Vice Chair Elwin Wood, small fire departments like Roscoe and Livingston Manor don’t have meeting halls and don’t host large functions that generate significant amounts of trash.
Additionally, their budgets have already been set for 2010.
“Three hundred fifty dollars is way excessive for these,” Wood said of Cohen’s suggestion to raise the $300 fee to $350.
But without that higher fee, Cohen lamented that the changes would leave a $646,000 hole in the 2010 county budget, which was created and approved last month based on the original fee schedule.
Rouis replied that such a deficit will likely be covered this year by monies from the $12 million landfill closure/monitoring fund. He added that the cost to operate the system may be less than currently envisioned, thus reducing the deficit further.
And, said Legislator Leni Binder, “just remember that we did not do this with no tipping fee.”
That $85-per-ton fee ($125 for construction and demolition debris) will ensure that “those groups that do use more will pay more,” Rouis predicted.
He did, however, apologize to tax collectors and assessors for unintentionally creating a system that has become “an undue burden” on them.
In the meantime, a Solid Waste Review Committee has been formed and will host its first meeting on Thursday, January 28 at 10 a.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.
The meeting is open to the public and will feature opportunities for the audience to provide input, said Rouis.
For more information and to get on the email list for future committee meetings, contact Legislature Clerk AnnMarie Martin at 807-0435.

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