Dan Hust | Democrat
Legislator Kathy LaBuda is chairing the reconvened (and reconstituted) Sullivan County Solid Waste Task Force.
From the left, Sullivan County Attorney Sam Yasgur, South Fallsburg resident Amanda Ward, Cochecton Town Supervisor Gary Maas, and Callicoon engineer John Fink go over the details of the county’s solid waste system on Thursday.
Return to a county landfill?
By Dan Hust
MONTICELO April 23, 2013 nitially convened to restudy the solid waste user/access fee, the Sullivan County Solid Waste Task Force may take on an even more herculean task: charting the future of the county’s waste system, including whether to restart the cancelled expansion of the landfill.
“There’s no reason that the landfill should not generate excess revenue,” assessed Treasurer Ira Cohen, speaking at the Task Force’s second meeting on Thursday.
He noted that the landfill once provided $3-$4 million in annual revenue, compared to the $4 million the county now spends to have its trash hauled upstate.
“You gave up a cash cow,” observed Task Force member Paul Burckard, the county’s former Real Property Tax Services director.
“It seems to me that at some point, that’s the bigger picture we need to look at,” Cohen said. “... If it were up to me, I’d go back to where we were in the past. I think we ought to be in the landfill business.”
“I always thought we should go through with Phase II of the landfill,” added Task Force Chair Kathy LaBuda.
County Attorney Sam Yasgur agreed, “Otherwise, somebody else controls us [with the costs of exportation].”
However, LaBuda acknowledged the challenges in either reopening the now-closed landfill or finding a new site, leading Task Force member John Fink to suggest a regional approach, including collaborating with neighboring Pennsylvania, where many residents already take their trash.
Legislator Cora Edwards asked for a comprehensive presentation on the various options and ideas, which may be coming at the next meeting on May 16 at 10 a.m. at the Government Center in Monticello (open to the public).
Changing the fee
Thursday’s hourlong meeting did touch on the Task Force’s primary objective: determining how to more fairly assess the unpopular solid waste user/access fee, designed to pay off the debt remaining on the closed landfill.
While the current setup means the debt should be fully paid off in 2022, legislators have heard endless complaints about how the fee doesn’t adequately discriminate.
“My little real estate office pays 300 bucks,” Burckard illustrated, “... but the [state] prison pays 300 bucks, and Wal-Mart pays 300 bucks! It doesn’t work it’s grossly unfair.”
“Even a softball field pays $300,” added Task Force member and Cochecton Town Supervisor Gary Maas.
On the flip side, mobile home parks pay a maximum of $1,800 a year, equal to the fee for 15 individual units.
“I have three [mobile home] communities in Mamakating, with over 400 sites,” noted Task Force member Joe Herschel, who said he couldn’t afford to pay the $120-per-unit fee if all those sites were individually assessed.
“I would rather see it on an ad valorem basis,” he suggested. “... Government makes things complicated, and people get in an uproar. Let’s simplify it.”
Problem is, it’s not that simple. Burckard pointed out that an ad valorem fee system would by law preclude tax-exempt properties, which in the current fee system must pay.
Callicoon Town Assessor Bonnie Hubert identified a major problem as being the property classification codes that assessors use and was adopted for the solid waste fee.
“The property class codes were not established to collect money for the solid waste system,” she remarked, to the agreement of the entire Task Force. “... That’s what’s inequitable about the whole thing. ... I think there has got to be a fairer way to bill it.”
Cohen agreed, explaining that, for example, a single-family home pays the same waste fee, whether one or 20 people live there. The property class codes simply do not offer enough detail to discriminate further.
Yet the original Task Force, said Yasgur, had rejected the idea of creating a separate fee-only database for fear it would be too expensive and time-consuming, requiring every property across the county to be personally visited by a data collector.
Public Works Deputy Commissioner Ed McAndrew pointed out that bag and tipping fees capture revenue as well, the former applying to residents and the latter applying to haulers when they visit transfer stations throughout Sullivan County.
Further data and options are needed, agreed the Task Force.
Collectors in arrears
In the meantime, while the county is loathe to scare away hauling companies by raising tipping fees, it does plan to go after several companies which are behind on their payments.
Edwards indicated the county is collectively owed more than a million dollars from haulers.
“I think that’s the most ridiculous thing,” assessed Herschel. “... What gives them the right not to pay and still dump?”
“The point is,” Edwards replied, “they’ve been allowed to get away with it.”
“We did meet this week with a collection firm,” affirmed Cohen. “It may be we’re only days away from turning this over to collections.”