$50 fee proposed to cover landfill shortfall

Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Chapel Hill Mayor Carl Cooper, left, gestures while speaking to the Marshall County Solid Waste Committee.

A $50 annual fee is being proposed by Marshall County's Solid Waste Committee to cover a shortfall in county revenue from Cedar Ridge Landfill.

If adopted, a solid waste fee would be imposed on every residence in the county except those in municipalities because cities and towns provide trash collection and disposal services.

The committee's recommendation is being forwarded to the County Commission's meeting in August so there's time to refine details of the plan and provide explanations.

A $210,000 shortfall in revenue for the county's Solid Waste Department was reported Monday night to the committee by Solid Waste Director Morgan Thomas. That department and funding for operations of trash convenience centers are funded by host fees paid by charges collected at Cedar Ridge when trash is dumped there.

Meanwhile, Waste Management Inc. is waiting for a state decision on an expansion permit for Cedar Ridge Landfill. Without an answer, the company has reduced the amount of trash it accepts, thereby lowering its payment of host fees to Marshall County, causing the $210,000 shortfall in the Solid Waste Department's budget.

"It's not for trash removal," Commissioner Mickey King said of the proposed fee. "It's to cover a shortfall" in revenue for the Solid Waste Department's operations.

However, the $50 fee is to generate $270,000. The $60,000 difference is to pay for billing, collection and other work increased by the fee, Thomas said.

Host fees paid to the county by Waste Management are split in half, with one half funding department operations and the other half paying Waste Management to operate the convenience centers.

That system means that if the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation denies the company's request to expand the landfill, then the landfill closes when it's full. That could happen in a few months, but officials don't know when or if it will happen. If the landfill were closed, the county would face operational costs for the convenience centers or their closure and replacement with a responsibility for disposal of trash.

The Solid Waste Committee, led by Commissioner Don Ledford, voted unanimously for the resolution to be drafted by County Attorney Ginger Shofner. It's to include information being developed by Thomas on prospective costs, apparently so the solid waste fee could be increased if the landfill is closed and the county faces disposal responsibilities. They might include operation of convenience centers and/or establishment of a trash transfer station.

Because the $50 fee is to cover a shortfall in revenue for a county department, Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel likened it to the wheel tax. Skeptical criticism appears to be justified in that situation since motorists continue to pay wheel taxes long after school bonds are paid.

Thomas, however, provided another approach to the solid waste fee, but it depends on TDEC's decision on Waste Management's request for a permit to expand its use of land at Cedar Ridge for burial of garbage.

If the county creates the proposed solid waste fee, Thomas explained on Wednesday morning, "It could be something that goes away if Waste Management gets its permit and tonnage [of trash dumped at the landfill] goes up."

"Should they leave," Thomas continued about Waste Management and its payment of the host fee, "it would be increased to cover transfer costs and operation of the convenience centers."

The $50 amount was used during the Solid Waste Committee meeting in a scenario that seemed most logical given various developments, but the next morning, Thomas explained, "We still have to factor in delinquencies and lower income homes." A reduction in property taxes is possible for elderly and other low-income residents who qualify, and that apparently applies to the proposed solid waste fee.

Thomas developed several options on what the county might do about the budget shortfall and how the county might respond to the closure of Cedar Ridge. They are based, in part, on information gathered by the committee, which has traveled to various nearby counties to inspect recycling centers, transfer stations and offices that charge a solid waste fee.