Host fee audit won't happen

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Marshall County's Solid Waste Committee has dropped its support for an audit of trash delivered to Cedar Ridge Landfill and members have criticized Waste Management as uncooperative.

It's the latest development in one of several aspects of the county's on-going discussions on what to do about trash here since there's a possibility that the state won't grant a permit request for the expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill.

In October, the county asked auditors to compete for a contract to audit the landfill since what's buried there determines how much must be paid in host fees to the county. The money is used to run the solid waste department's recycling programs and to pay Waste Management for operating convenience centers.

Winnett & Associates landed the contract and the Shelbyville firm was set out on its task.

"I was contacted by the accounting firm in Shelbyville to discuss the audit," said Robert Cheney, business development director for Waste Management Inc., the company overseeing Cedar Ridge Landfill.

"There is no mechanism for an audit," Cheney said. "There are no parameters for an audit."

Waste Management is "not going to be willing to give out customer lists or pricing," he said recently. An agreement of confidentiality would have been required.

Last winter, when Cheney learned there were county commissioners who wanted an audit to see if the county was getting the appropriate sum of money for host fees, the landfill business development director pointed out that audits are a double-edged sword.

An audit elsewhere revealed Waste Management overpaid host fees and so the company sought a refund, Cheney said. It might happen again, he said.

Months passed and at a recent Solid Waste Committee meeting, Chairman Don Ledford reported that Waste Management wanted a letter from the county authorizing release of information. It was seen as an obstruction to the audit.

When he and other committeemen were asked if the company was behaving like other contractors such as architects and engineers who wouldn't provide information without permission from their clients, Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the budget committee, replied that the commission's resolution should have been sufficient.

Separately, Cheney said, "My simple request was for a letter from the Solid Waste Committee requesting an audit of Cedar Ridge Landfill and that we would have met to establish the parameters of the audit and once those parameters were agreed to, then the audit would proceed."

"We never declined to participate in the audit," Cheney said. "We were simply asking for a letter requesting us to participate."

During Monday night's county commission meeting, Commissioner Dean Delk raised the issue, asking: "What is the status of the audit?"

Ledford replied that Waste Management refused the audit.

Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill interjected that there was an issue about a letter.

She also noted that the Solid Waste Committee had voted to withdraw the recommendation for an audit and that the issue will return to the commission during its meeting in August.