By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Though there may be changes introduced this Thursday, legislators unanimously agreed last week to a “hybrid” solid waste user fee/tipping fee model for 2010.
That means the typical single-family home in Sullivan County will see an additional $84.95 charge on the property tax bill in January.
That’s far lower than the $180 fee legislators were considering over the past few weeks, and a gale of public outrage seems to have had some effect.
But instead of no fees for the average homeowner visiting a transfer station, the existing per-bag fee will remain, albeit in modified form.
Those bringing black bags to the disposal sites will be charged $4 per bag, while those bringing clear bags will be charged $2 per bag in an effort to incentivize recycling.
The $75/ton tipping fee charged to haulers of municipal solid waste will not be eliminated but be increased to $85 a ton all to make the $12.5 million/year solid waste system self-sufficient, said Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis.
“We based this model on [taking in] 60,000 tons a year,” he explained to his fellow legislators this past Thursday. “[This will] spread those costs over 100 percent of the improved properties in the county.”
Currently, the system plus millions more in landfill debt is paid for by property taxes, but this new model will assess the user fee on taxable and tax-exempt parcels, so long as they are not vacant.
Commercial and seasonal properties will be charged differently (see sidebar) than single-family residences, from a low of $49.75 per parcel to as much as $850. All revenue will be kept in a special fund dedicated solely to the solid waste system.
Legislators’ discussion of the fees this past Thursday indicated some changes will be coming in the final resolution to be voted on at 2 p.m. this Thursday at the Government Center in Monticello.
“I would suggest we have two different classes of mobile home parks,” remarked Legislator Leni Binder of the proposed $850-per-park fee, noting that those parks under 10 units would save money by paying per unit.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda didn’t think it would be fair to ask residents to switch to clear bags by January 1.
“Could we ease into this slowly?” she asked, getting the response that the program won’t officially begin until February 1.
Legislator Jodi Goodman, whose hometown of Liberty has been mandating clear bags for some time, said the bags are easy to find.
“There’s a white frosted bag that is clear, and I don’t know of a store that doesn’t sell them, including the dollar stores,” she told LaBuda. “... I think we need to make a bold statement: do it right, or you’re going to be fined.”
Rouis said he had just met with the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce, which agreed to promote its members’ supplies of clear bags in the area.
County Manager David Fanslau said an intermunicipal agreement will be struck with Liberty, since it’s a ways ahead of the county in how it deals with municipal trash. He indicated such an agreement could be reached with other interested towns and villages in the county, potentially leading to lower rates.
Legislator Alan Sorensen, who with Legislator David Sager had been the chief opponent of the original user fee proposal, said he liked this idea.
“I’m glad we’re looking at a hybrid approach,” he said on Thursday. “... I would still like a lower user fee number.”
“We all would,” acknowledged Rouis, pointing out that the rates may change and possibly go down in 2011.
(Some may go down sooner, as an appeals process will be set up for those seeking to grieve their waste fees. Such appeals will be considered jointly by Deputy County Manager Josh Potosek, County Treasurer Ira Cohen, Public Works Commissioner Bob Meyer and Real Property Tax Services Director Lynda Levine, said Fanslau.)
Sager agreed with Sorensen, but regardless, he felt people would adapt quickly, as would the stores that may not currently stock clear bags. In fact, while supportive of recycling, he urged legislators to be careful about cutting fees for clear bags that, in the end, are just as full of trash as black bags.
“I think we’re almost incentivizing clear bags too much,” he observed.
However, increased enforcement may be on the way. Come February 1, only county residents and businesses will be allowed to use the transfer stations (out-of-county residents may be able to buy a “disposal pass”), and dumping truckloads of trash while giving attendants just one or two coupons may come to an end.
“The people who got used to paying $2 for a pickup truck are in for a rude awakening,” promised Rouis.
SULLIVAN COUNTY Here’s the currently proposed solid waste user fee schedule, though it may be altered before this Thursday’s vote.
Also, be aware that existing coupon booklets will be either honored or refunded in 2010, when these rates take effect:
Residential user fees (per unit)
• Single-family $84.95
• Single-family with enhanced STAR $72
• Apartment $84.95
• Seasonal residential $49.75
• Cottage/bungalow $79.50
• Mobile home parks $850 (per park, not unit)
Commercial user fees (flat fee)
• Low volume $350
• Moderate volume $450
• High volume $650
• Very high volume $850