Dan Hust | Democrat
FREMONT SUPERVISOR JIM Greier, center, criticizes the proposed solid waste plan as just another tax on already-burdened county taxpayers. Listening are, from the left, Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm, Legislator Leni Binder and Callicoon Supervisor Linda Babicz
Changes, rather than odors, are in the air around landfill
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Two meetings this week focused on Sullivan County’s surprising new policy direction on the landfill.
Tuesday’s meeting of the Legislature’s Public Works Committee indicated legislators were somewhat favorable to a plan suddenly not involving the controversial Phase II expansion.
And Wednesday’s meeting of the Association of Supervisors featuring representation from 11 of the 15 townships in the county indicated a similar sentiment from town officials.
However, many kinks remain to be worked out, not the least of which is County Manager David Fanslau’s proposal to make the solid waste system self-sufficient by replacing tipping (dumping) fees with user fees.
A just-released report from his office listed fees ranging from $182 for single-family homes to $1,800 for large industries to be assessed on every property parcel capable of generating waste, even if tax-exempt and that sparked discussion at both meetings.
Callicoon businessman Bob DeCristofaro noted that under such a fee structure, his laundromat, restaurant, business office and home would generate a larger user fee than the nearby Villa Roma Resort.
“Not necessarily,” countered Fanslau, who said the idea is to proportion the costs so that the biggest users pay the biggest fees.
“They do it in Delaware County right now,” pointed out Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis, citing one of several municipalities from which the county is gathering ideas.
“But why wouldn’t it be more economical to charge by the ton?” questioned DeCristofaro.
Fanslau replied that even without the Phase II expansion, tipping fees would have to rise from $75 a ton to $135 a ton to wean the landfill off the general fund, from which it’s been sucking more than $3 million a year (not counting the payments on $40 million of debt).
The cost to construct and operate Phase II would bump up tipping fees to $246 a ton, Fanslau added.
But skepticism remained.
“There would be such a complicated fee schedule, you wouldn’t be able to do it,” observed Callicoon engineer John Fink, a retired county employee.
DeCristofaro added that it appeared to be a “blanket fee.”
“It’s a flat tax,” he commented.
“There’s no way in the world that any of my constituents are going to see this as anything but an additional tax,” said Highland Supervisor Tina Palecek at the next day’s meeting.
She was somewhat mollified when Fanslau pointed out that county property owners are right now paying twice for the landfill: once as taxpayers footing the bill for the system’s financial failings, and once more through the tipping fees.
“It’s not a new tax,” he insisted.
Fremont Supervisor Jim Greier wasn’t so sure.
“It will never fly,” he predicted. “It is another tax.”
“People are not all that interested in paying money for the greater good,” added Callicoon Supervisor Linda Babicz, who currently pays about $5 a month to dump her trash (but is supportive of a new, “greener” path with the waste system).
Lumberland Supervisor John LiGreci and Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm disagreed, with LiGreci calling it a “golden opportunity to change our ways.”
“Nothing good will ever come out of burying trash,” LiGreci remarked. “... Nothing should be buried in that landfill ever again.”
That contradicted comments he made last year urging legislators to expand the landfill, but he said that arose from now-allayed concerns that waste disposal would be left up to the townships themselves if the landfill were closed.
Janet Newberg, representing SPECS (a longtime foe of landfill expansion), remarked that in Rockland County, a recycling incentive often results in $40 of a $100 user fee being returned to residents.
Still, Forestburgh Supervisor Jim Galligan and Mamakating Supervisor Bob Fiore agreed with Legislator David Sager that the public would need to know a lot more about this plan before it could buy in, and Fanslau is expected to crisscross the county promoting it.
But first Fanslau needs to hear back from legislators, preferably by April 23’s full Legislature meeting, he said.
They have to tell him how to proceed with a plan that doesn’t just include user fees but an expanded materials recovery facility (MRF), a composting facility about double the size of the 128,000-square-foot version county officials visited in Delaware County last year, and either exportation or burial in Phase II of the remaining waste.
Several legislators have already expressed interest in the “green” approach to composting and expanded recycling, but concerns remain.
“I do want the right” to expand the landfill into Phase II, remarked Legislator Leni Binder. “I think we have to have that control.”
Still, she felt the current proposal “looks like the best hybrid program for us.”
“I think this model is surely going to be more fiscally responsible and palatable to every taxpayer,” Sager said to the supervisors. “... I hope you’ll come to embrace this.”
Legislator Jodi Goodman, however, isn’t yet ready to embrace it herself.
“I’m against the expansion,” she acknowledged, “... [but] I need time to digest this more.
“Is it exactly what we need?” she wondered. “... Should we go into exportation first?”
The county actually will have to temporarily export virtually all of its waste in the months between next May’s closure of a full Phase I and the 2011 opening of Phase II.
(Interestingly, Fanslau confirmed the county is investigating mining the current landfill to free up space and retrieve trash that might have some recyclable value.)
Should Phase II not be built, Fanslau said it will take at least three years for the composting facility to be put into operation, so Legislator Alan Sorensen in whose district the landfill sits pushed hard for the county to quickly enter into a minimum five-year exportation contract with an out-of-county landfill.
He also pressed for a thorough review to ensure this proposal is truly the best path.
“The most important thing we need to look at ... is the fiscal implications,” he said. “... I don’t want to jump in to the next mistake.”