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Dan Hust | Democrat

Bethel Town Assessor Marge Brown makes a point on Tuesday about including assessors in all discussions about the future of the county’s solid waste system and associated fees.

Lots of time to spend on waste

By Dan Hust
MMONTICELLO — February 19, 2010 — A range of ideas was bandied about at Tuesday’s second meeting of the Sullivan County Legislative Select Committee on Solid Waste Revenue Model.
In non-government-speak, that’s the committee Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis created to figure out where to go with the just-enacted and highly controversial solid waste user fee.
Despite the snowy conditions, the small committee hearing room at the Government Center in Monticello was packed – with speakers as much as listeners.
What the county’s facing
County Manager David Fanslau kicked off the discussion by detailing the options and challenges he’s identified.
Options include:
• Eliminating the user fees, making the solid waste system solely dependent on tipping and bag fees. Leaving per-bag fees at $2 for clear bags and $4 for black bags, the tipping fee would have to increase from $85 per ton to $207 per ton, Fanslau stated.
• Eliminating all fees and funding the system through property taxes. That would necessitate a 25.5 percent tax increase for 2011, said Fanslau.
• Eliminating the user fees but retaining the current per-bag and tipping fees and making up the difference via property taxes. Fanslau explained this would hike taxes by 11.6 percent next year.
• Retaining tipping and bag fees, but replacing the user fees with a solid waste disposal district charge (akin to water/sewer districts, with ad valorem-based taxes and capital charges to tax-exempt parcels).
• Retaining tipping and bag fees, but creating a solid waste authority which would assess fees through taxes, capital charges and/or access fees.
• And, of course, keeping the system as-is.
Fanslau noted the following challenges:
• The county must repay $4.5 million every year of the remaining debt it has on the now-closed landfill in Monticello, through 2022. A new district or authority might not be allowed to pay for old debt on a closed asset, and money cannot be borrowed for it, said Fanslau.
• The same goes for the post-closure costs of monitoring and maintaining the landfill’s environmental integrity, currently estimated to be $1.2 million every year for at least the next 30 years.
• A countywide disposal district may not be forced upon municipalities (like the townships of Liberty and Neversink) which already have their own such districts.
• Both the disposal district and solid waste authority ideas would require state legislation to be created, not just local approval.
Fanslau said most of these options and challenges will require further legal review, but before expending too much more time and money on them, he felt the committee should start narrowing its choices.
Other options?
Chamber of Commerce President Terri Ward brought some ideas with her to the meeting, as well, culled from a solid waste task force the Chamber has created. (Those meetings are also open to the public, with one tentatively slated for next week. Call Ward at 791-4200 for an updated schedule.)
First off, she said, the Chamber wants to see the user fee abolished.
Reading from a letter she and Chamber Board Chair Jeremy Gorelick co-wrote, Ward remarked, “Our meetings have been productive in several key areas:
“1. Considering overarching issues related to solid waste and its production within Sullivan County by adopting a clear and enforceable recycling policy or looking to our neighbors for a regional solution.
“2. Analyzing changes to the user fee system through the creation of a district where properties can be assessed by units (for residential or commercial uses) or based on ad valorem taxation, so long as all properties, regardless of taxable status, are fairly and equitably assessed.
“3. Identifying alternative revenue stream ideas such as an expansion of the landfill (pursuant to approval by the DEC), gasification and/or mining of existing and incoming waste, or borrowing funds to cover past debt.
“The members of the committee have handed me a specific mandate, though – to represent them, and the thousands of other property owners in Sullivan County, who feel disenfranchised by the decision-making that occurred in late 2009, and to do our best to guarantee that, regardless of the decisions and recommendations of the committee, our ideas will not fall on deaf ears,” she concluded.
Though not in the letter, Ward added, “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to dissuade litigation of any kind.”
Privatizing the landfill, replied Fanslau, is not an option, because past requests for proposals have gone unanswered. He surmised that’s due to the potential environmental issues surrounding the old Monticello dump next door.
Legislator David Sager added that he doubted there would be restarted movement on expanding the landfill, and while he supports capturing and selling/using the methane naturally produced by the landfill, he noted there had been community resistance in the past.
The county, said Fanslau, is once again looking into the gasification option, with a request for proposals being prepared.
Some agreement, but more to do
Committee members spent nearly the next two hours discussing the waste system’s past, present and future, with a consensus being reached that (1) the county should offer some sort of waste disposal, and (2) the old debts and current costs must be borne by all county residents, visitors and businesses in a fair fashion.
“We all have to own up to the mistakes of the past and pay together for the future,” stated Sager.
Beyond that, as Treasurer Ira Cohen said, “we ought to put everything on the table ... for creating the best possible system.
“I’m not exactly sure how to do that,” he acknowledged, “but I want to listen to the people who have done this elsewhere. I want to listen to the pros and cons, and I don’t want to discount anything.”
Committee Chairman and Legislator Elwin Wood said the next meeting – scheduled for next Thursday at 9 a.m. – would focus on property classification codes (used this year to determine user fee levels but needing a greater depth and accuracy), assessing fees by units, and creating a disposal district.
Interestingly, the district idea is already in place, in a way – the county’s 1992 law mandating recycling also mandated that all trash in the county be disposed of in the county.
“That’s never been enforced, obviously,” said Yasgur dryly.
And other nagging questions remain: enforcement of recycling, allowing people to “opt out,” and clarifying the clear bag rules, which have confused many, according to Neversink Town Clerk Lisa Garigliano and Roscoe resident Steve Lott.
What the public said
Public comment sessions began and ended the meeting, with Thompson Sanitation owner Paul Walsh one of the most vocal.
His first topic: those clear bags.
“It’s unfair to my customers,” he lamented. “They’re not allowed that reduced rate [on clear bags]. Also, there’s no incentive to recycle.”
He advocated for a flat $4-per-bag fee to simplify matters and increase revenue for the county.
Callicoon businessman Bob DeCristofaro complained that he’s been unfairly treated, as well, noting that out of the three commercial properties he owns, the smallest hike in taxes (via the user fee) has amounted to 25 percent.
He argued that the user fee should be based on a business’ number of employees.
Town of Liberty Financial Services Director (and Cochecton resident) Earl Bertsch liked the per-unit charge, saying it had worked for 20 years with Liberty’s sewer district.
“Everyone is paying their fair share,” he said. “They complain, but they pay the bill.”
Roscoe resident Steve Lott wondered how the county will ensure only in-county and authorized out-of-county users will have access to the system.
Fanslau indicated a permit – potentially a card of some kind – will be issued to anyone who has paid the appropriate user fee.
More to be discussed soon
In addition to committee members and any interested public, attendees at this Thursday’s meeting are expected to include county staff who work on the computer system and tax bills, plus Rockland County Solid Waste Authority attorney Teno West.
Starting March 2, the committee will meet every Tuesday at 9 a.m., with a goal of having a plan to recommend to the County Legislature by June 30.

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