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You will pay more

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — December 21, 2010 — Though overshadowed by the budget and wage freeze votes, the 2011 solid waste/recycling fee was put into place on Thursday by legislators.
A dramatic drop in revenue-producing tonnage this past year – estimated to be 15,000-20,000 fewer tons than originally anticipated – means many property owners will be paying more.
Only legislators Kathy LaBuda and Alan Sorensen were opposed to the fee schedule’s enactment, with David Sager not present.
“This is, if not better, a whole lot less worse [than the 2010 fee system],” said Legislator Ron Hiatt. “... We have included more payers in the process.”
He was referring to tax-exempt properties, which will be charged if they feature habitable structures.
But Town of Bethel Assessor Marguerite Brown, a member of the county-created committee that spent the last 10 months revising the fee setup, doesn’t think the committee’s ideas were heeded in the end.
“I am livid [at] what they did, that they had the nerve to raise that fee,” she remarked yesterday, focusing especially on the hardship it may create for seniors on fixed incomes.
Counter to the committee’s recommendation, legislators opted not to assess a fee on vacant parcels, although Thursday’s vote featured very little discussion on the matter.
The residential category, which applies to most detached homes in the county, is rising from $84.95 to $120. Museums, veterans halls and houses of worship, among others, will also be charged $120.
The commercial-residential category, which covers apartment houses and mobile home parks, was capped at $850 but will now pay as much as $1,800. Each residential unit will be charged $120, and if there are more than 15, the maximum $1,800 rate will apply.
Since those fees are increasing, the Aged/Enhanced STAR discount will increase as well, to $108.
Businesses will continue to pay $300, as will mixed uses (i.e., main street stores that also house apartments).
Municipalities, too, will be charged the same: $850 apiece, regardless of how much property they own.
In the end, Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis said it was simple arithmetic that determined how much each category must pay to offset the $5.9 million in debt and operating expenses not covered by tipping fees and recycling revenue.
“The reduced tonnage directly correlates to the need to increase the direct billed solid waste fee,” explained County Manager David Fanslau. “The tipping fee was to generate $6.6 million in 2010, but the year-to-date as of November 30 actually was about $4 million. The tipping fee is market rate, and it must remain market rate, or the system will lose even more tonnage and revenues.”
A per-unit system was deemed too expensive and ungainly to implement right away, though it may find life in 2012 or beyond. Still, this per-parcel system features a per-unit charge under the commercial-residential category – a surprise to Brown.
“It’s kind of a mixed system, so to say,” acknowledged Legislator Elwin Wood, who chaired the committee on which Brown and other town-level officials sat.
But he felt the committee’s efforts were not in vain.
“We ran several mock bills and solved the problem of people being billed incorrectly,” Wood proffered, saying the final result is “as fair and equitable as we could make it.”
Nevertheless, there will be an appeals process, with the same officials – Deputy County Manager Josh Potosek, County Treasurer Ira Cohen & Deputy Treasurer Nancy Buck, and Commissioner of Public Works Bob Meyer – reviewing them.
So with 2011’s fee looking a lot like 2010’s, what did the committee actually accomplish?
“The process was very thorough in exploring alternative funding options, including waste flow control, a solid waste authority, a solid waste district, and others,” argued Fanslau. “The research proved that of the viable alternatives, the refined system for 2011 is the most equitable that may be employed at this time, and one that will generate revenue from all that the system is provided as a service, rather than just the owners of taxable real property parcels.”

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