Waste fees get thumbs down at public hearing
By Susan LeBar
NARROWSBURG Last Tuesday, the Tusten Town Hall hosted the first in a series of town-hall-format hearings set up by the County Legislature to get input into an upcoming decision regarding solid waste fees, the 2010 budget and other topics.
Other such meetings are slated for Dec 1. at at the Liberty Senior Center in Liberty at 7 p.m. and December 10 at the Mamakating Town Hall in Wurtsboro at 7 p.m.
Legislators have explored several options in light of having to close the county landfill, which will reach its capacity by the end of the year.
The first and least likeliest option involves closing down all transfer stations, but the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) at the landfill would continue to operate. Residents and municipalities would be responsible for finding alternative locations in the region to dispose of their waste.
The county would be responsible for payment of $6.2 million annually in debt service and post-closure and related costs and the operation of the MRF. With no source of revenue to cover these expenses, the property tax levy would have to be utilized, which would translate to an additional 13.5 percent tax increase in 2010, to be paid by the 80 percent of the county’s taxpayers who do not own tax-exempt land. Tax- exempt parcel owners would pay nothing under this system.
The second option is that of a user fee/no tipping fee model, under which the county would export its waste. A transfer station for long-distance hauling would be constructed at the location of the existing landfill in Monticello, and all transfer stations would continue to operate.
To finance this system, a fee would be assessed on every improved parcel (including tax-exempt ones) in the county, and a fee schedule would be developed based on the use of the parcel. Residential and rental units would be charged about $180 per year while commercial users would see higher rates, depending on their size.
The third option is that of a user fee/tipping fee hybrid model similar to the second concept, except that tipping fees would be increased to $85 per ton. Again, a user fee would be implemented to pay for all expenses not covered by revenue generated by the tipping fee. Under this system it is estimated that most households would pay about $80 per year, while business would be charged a flat fee based on waste volume.
Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis was on hand to listen and talk.
“The county now has an issue with garbage, and we have to pay at least $11.5 million to operate the system,” he told the crowd. “We have presented here tonight three options, but nothing is decided as of yet.
“We have to close the current landfill,” he continued, “and there is money budgeted to cap and close the landfill. We do have a debt that was created before us, and now it is coming due and we have to pay for it. If we could go backwards and change the way things were done, we would. Right now we have to pay the debt coming due of 5.5 million dollars, and if we do nothing, we still have to pay [the debt], so that is why we are looking at these options.”
Those in attendance were generally not pleased with the county’s presentation.
Bernie Creamer of Narrowsburg asked, “If a person is currently paying a hauler, you are telling us they still have to pay the $182? My family recycles, and we do not have a lot of garbage. I understand the dilemma, but it is not fair to us. We live in the western part of the county, and we get nothing. We are all in an economic bind, and you cannot keep coming after the taxpayers. What are you going to do with an apartment house that has 40 people in it? How do those people pay?”
Rouis replied, “Right now, if you pay a hauler, a portion of the bill goes to the county and a portion goes to the hauler, and yes, if you have a hauler under the first two plans, you still would have to pay.”
Creamer was not sold.
“I understand the dilemma: you have to figure out how to bill your weekenders, your out-of-state people that come here and so on,” he said. “You as a group need to find a better solution because truthfully, Sullivan County is nowhere. You can’t get a job and you cannot afford to even live here. You guys [legislators] have so many pipe dreams, you better find a different way than coming to the taxpayer.”
Local business owner Rick Lander added, “I was at the last [Legislature] meeting in regards to this and I left very upset you didn’t even listen to what the people were saying. The hybrid model seems like the most sensible way to go, and truthfully people should pay for the garbage they use only. The hybrid offers ways to recycle more, and if you recycle more, there is less garbage.
“If you charge people $182, they certainly are not going to recycle, and with the hybrid you will even get the tax-exempts to pay,” Lander added.
“Why don’t you just increase the size of the bag people dump, because we should only pay for what we use,” Narrowsburg resident Susan Sullivan said. “With the first two concepts, you will kill your small business owners that are struggling now, and they support the county with their businesses. Admit it: none of the larger projects the county has proposed have succeeded they have all failed!”
“I do not generate any garbage at my business, so since I live in the county and have a business in the county, I am double charged. That is just wrong, and I don’t agree with this at all,” Debbie Wasylk added,
John Fink of Callicoon commented, “Once again you are putting the burden on the taxpayer, and people do not need another burden. And truthfully we cannot afford another burden.”
Tusten Supervisor Ben Johnson also agreed with a lot of the comments being made.
“You cannot charge everyone the same it is not fair. You cannot charge a senior citizen this fee when they use nothing. They are on fixed incomes as it is,” Johnson said.
One last comment came from Kathy Michell, who simply stated, “Enough is enough: people should pay for what they use. You have surplus equipment and [need to sell it] and pay down your debt that is what the people in this county are doing now, selling and saving what they can. And this is what the county needs to do and stop the spending!”
“We appreciate all the input from the public tonight, and trust us, we are looking for the silver bullet in this issue,” Rouis concluded. “Right now, no decision has been made on what avenues we are taking, and we have to decide this at the end of the year. We have other town hall meetings set up, and we will listen and hopefully we will find the solution without burden to the taxpayer.”