Dan Hust | Democrat
Sullivan County Solid Waste Task Force members (from the left) John Fink, Bonnie Hubert and Ira Cohen spoke to legislators Thursday about a recommendation to change the solid waste user fee to an ad valorem system.
Waste fee may morph into tax
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO October 15, 2013 Legislators are considering the Solid Waste Task Force’s recommendation to drop the hated solid waste user/
access fee and replace it with a dedicated property tax.
Such a change, if adopted, would have different impacts on different town, with some property tax bills increasing and others decreasing, depending on their assessed valuation.
Unlike the current system, vacant land would become chargeable, while tax-exempts would not pay anything an acceptable tradeoff, said task force members, since tax-exempts currently contribute less than $300,000 annually to the nearly $6 million in revenue the fee brings in.
That might lessen the outrage over the fee, as well, since not just religious bungalow colonies are tax-exempt so are firehouses, schools, municipal buildings and other taxpayer-supported structures.
“I believe the present system with the fee is inequitable,” argued Cochecton Supervisor Gary Maas, a task force member, in a presentation to legislators Thursday.
“We feel ad valorem would be the best way to collect that money the way it used to be,” added fellow member and Callicoon Town Assessor Bonnie Hubert.
“Ad valorem goes back to spread the equity,” agreed member John Fink, a Callicoon engineer.
County Treasurer Ira Cohen proposed phasing in the change over three years, to allow taxpayers to adjust, as Acting County Manager Josh Potosek estimated that simply dropping the user fee in 2014 would hike taxes by an untenable 10.5 percent.
But at least one legislator isn’t sure even a phased-in route is the right approach.
“Why are we going back to taxes?” Jonathan Rouis wondered, arguing instead for an increased tipping fee (the price paid when people and companies dump their garbage at a transfer station in the county). “Let’s make it a true user fee.”
Public Works Commissioner Ed McAndrew and Legislator Alan Sorensen, however, predicted that would drive away the sanitation companies, whose activity generates the most tipping fee revenue.
“The market will never bear a $200 tipping fee,” Sorensen assessed. “The trucks will just dump elsewhere.”
Yet no system will be fair in every situation, acknowledged Sorensen, noting that in the ad valorem system, a property that has a high assessment but generates little trash will pay more than it does in the current system.
The user/access fee was originally intended to disappear once the landfill debt is paid off around 2022, but Cohen indicated it’s here to stay, even if it changes to an ad valorem assessment.
“You’ve still got [solid waste] operating expenses,” he explained.
Legislators have much to consider before voting on the matter next month.
Some seemed ready to vote; others didn’t.
“According to these figures, I’m going to be paying about $7 more big deal,” said Legislator Gene Benson.
“I still have too many questions,” said Legislator Cindy Gieger. “... I’m not ready to agree.”