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Waste fee likely to be a on a per-parcel basis

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — July 2, 2010 — The committee reviewing the solid waste user fee moved a step closer on Tuesday to a per-parcel charge backed up by flow control.
In a way, then, 2011 may look much like 2010 – except that even vacant parcels will have to pay a waste fee, and all trash will be required to be dumped at a Sullivan County facility.
The per-unit charge that had intrigued committee members in weeks past was set aside on Tuesday after the county’s Management Information Systems chief, Lorne Green, explained that extracting the necessary property information from the software assessors use would be near impossible without more staff and time.
“It’s a major, major endeavor . . . with individuals dedicated just to this task,” he predicted, counting the continual updates that would also be required.
Each assessor enters data differently, he explained. There’s nothing illegal or improper about that, he added, but it means that determining the number of units (i.e., apartments, mobile homes, etc.) cannot simply be commanded of the computer system.
“The information is in there in some format,” Green acknowledged. “... But we still don’t have a clear ability to pull it all out.”
That is, unless the 15 townships’ assessors could agree to a standardized way of reporting actual housing units when keying it into the system.
Or, added Treasurer Ira Cohen, if the county switched to a countywide assessment system.
The former seemed more popular with the committee than the latter, but County Manager David Fanslau pointed out that a per-unit charge could easily double or even triple the taxes apartment houses and mobile home parks pay.
Cohen, however, felt a per-unit charge would be more equitable than a per-parcel charge.
“I just don’t see how it’s fair to have one development with 300 houses in it… to charge them as one unit or cap them at 10 units,” he remarked.
Fanslau replied that such inequities are resolved via the tipping fees, which are paid by haulers on a per-ton basis.
But with assessors and others on the committee concerned about the enormous amount of time it would take to review the unit data buried in their computers, the committee generally agreed to go with a per-parcel fee, at least for 2011.
“I don’t think we have a choice,” observed Legislator Alan Sorensen.
Yet even the per-parcel method faces issues, including the fact that only a home or farm store located on a farm in an agricultural district can be charged a waste fee. The remaining acreage – no matter how many parcels – is exempt.
And county officials, working with local assessors, will have to craft a new fee schedule based on class codes – i.e., residential, non-residential, improved, unimproved, mixed-use, commercial residential, municipally-owned, etc.
Once those classifications are determined, flat fees will be created for each category. In other words, all churches will pay the same fee, all mobile home parks will pay the same fee (which might be different from the church fee), and so forth. Even tax-exempt properties will pay a fee under the current proposal.
Those fees and other items are anticipated to be discussed at the next committee meeting on Tuesday, July 13 at 9 a.m. in the Government Center.
By August, the committee is expected to make a formal recommendation to the County Legislature, which will then hold hearings and vote on the new law by the end of the year.

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