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Dan Hust | Democrat

Teno West serves as legal counsel to the Rockland County Solid Waste Management Authority, and he detailed its operations to Sullivan County officials on Tuesday.

County considers waste authority

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — March 5, 2010 — The idea of instituting a countywide solid waste authority found cautious interest from Solid Waste Review Committee members on Tuesday.
In a public meeting that will now be weekly (every Tuesday at 9 a.m. inside the Government Center), officials and residents listened to Teno West explain the Rockland County Solid Waste Management Authority, with which he serves as legal counsel.
“It’s the only authority in the state that has the ability to ... charge for its services and the availability of those services,” West remarked.
The average household, he said, pays about $140 a year, which includes an ad valorem area benefit charge, green waste unit charge, household hazardous waste unit charge, transfer station facility unit charge, materials recovery facility unit charge and sludge co-composting unit charge.
Vacant land and businesses are also charged, though at different rates.
Combined, those charges help fund the operation of Rockland County’s solid waste system, which includes three transfer stations, a materials recovery (recycling) facility, a co-composting facility, a household hazardous waste processing facility, a yard waste composting facility, and even an education center available for tours.
The authority also charges a $72 tipping fee and various fees for items like tires and leaves.
Trash pickup is a separate charge, although curbside recycling is offered at no cost.
“All waste in the county has to be processed at those three transfer stations,” West added.
As for enforcement, “we’re working through that process now,” he admitted.
Committee members were intrigued by Rockland’s operations, though Bethel Town Assessor Marge Brown evidenced surprise when West affirmed that they partially use assessors’ property classification codes to determine who pays what – a system that has not gotten off to a good start in Sullivan County.
Concerns, however, mainly dealt with differences in scale. Rockland County’s authority is overseen by a 17-member board and serves a population of about 300,000, processing around 500,000 tons of trash a year.
Sullivan County, on the other hand, features less than 80,000 year-round residents and expects to process about 60,000 tons of garbage this year.
Plus, the now-closed landfill still has around $36 million in outstanding debt, which West admitted would be tricky to incorporate into a solid waste authority.
Such authorities are prohibited from taking on existing debt, but he theorized that the county could make the debt payments and have the authority reimburse it rather than assume the past debt directly.
Still, he explained, “you have to go through the [New York State] Legislature to create an authority.”
He estimated that would take at least 3-6 months, even with the support County Treasurer Ira Cohen believes he’s gained from key members of the State Assembly.
Cohen pushed for a long-term view, even pondering the return of landfill operations as a revenue source.
“Let’s not put all our eggs in one basket,” he urged. “... We should sit here as long as it takes.”
But other committee members agreed that a solution must be found to the many complaints over the current solid waste user fee – in time for 2011.
With Rockland County’s system costing $25 million to build in the 1990s and state legislation needed to do the same in Sullivan County, the committee opted to keep an authority as a consideration but work on revamping the user fee in the meantime.
Committee Chairman Elwin Wood asked that property classification codes be made available at next week’s meeting, and members will pore through them to determine what might be “fair” user fees.
A variety of sticking points remain, however, including Cohen’s belief that while the user fee seems equitable, the unavoidable opt-out provision may prove its Achilles’ heel.
“It encourages people not to use the system and therefore not pay for it,” he warned.
County VFW Commander Keith Rumsey also urged members to ensure future bills are handled in a more timely manner, saying that one local veterans organization didn’t get their “revised” bill until this week – giving them little time to pay it without late penalties.

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