Waste Management offer could be considered by solid waste panel

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Since Marshall County commissioners rejected an annual solid waste fee, Waste Management's offer to help continue county recycling services becomes an important topic for the County's Solid Waste Committee.

Without county revenue to cover a $221,000 deficit from host fees paid by Cedar Ridge Landfill, the Solid Waste Department will probably eliminate two jobs; One full-time position, and a part time job. Recognizing the loss of revenue and the prospect of county staff cuts, Waste Management offered men and machines to haul recyclable materials.

Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the budget committee who endorsed keeping the department fully-funded, said the staff cuts seemed assured, but Solid Waste Director Morgan Thomas took a step further after Monday night's commission meeting.

"If there's a possibility of not taking the Waste Management offer, there's a possibility of more" reductions, he said.

County Budget Director Freda Terry agreed.

"You're not going to be able to maintain the service without that," Terry said.

Thomas' observation about the popularity of Waste Management was substantiated by other officials' comments after the monthly meeting of the county's governing body.

"It's a sad testament that we have taken a major step backwards after working so diligently in the past three years with all sectors invited," Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill said about the commission's 10-6 vote that rejected a $60 annual solid waste fee on all residences in the county beyond a municipal line.

As that fee was being referred to the commission by two committees, Waste Management Inc., the company operating Cedar Ridge Landfill, made an offer to provide some recycling collection and delivery services. It came with some conditions and was described by several county commission officials as poorly directed to Thomas when some thought it should go to the Solid Waste Committee first. Thomas said he will take the offer to the committee's next meeting.

Neill reacted to the company's timing.

"At the last moment," she said, "Waste Management comes through with another offer of help without a contract.

"Once again we have no plan" for disposal of trash if the state prohibits expansion of the landfill, Neill said. "And we will continue to have waste.

"But the question is whether we will ever be able to address the issue and if any commission will stand up and take the measures necessary to create a solution and not create more problems," she said.

Thomas had approached the then-proposed solid waste fee on Friday with "mixed" feelings, knowing he might have to lay off an employee who'd been a friend, yet acknowledging the fact that the fee would "impact a lot of folks."

He knows of no county with a solid waste fee that was enacted without some difficulty: "Lawrence County has a fee, but it passed through the commission, became law and then was fought and not upheld in court. Subsequently, they had to refund the fees and re-pass a resolution that would pass muster."

The University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service and County Attorney Ginger Shofner had reviewed the proposed fee that was defeated Monday.

Thomas has asked Waste Management if the company would hire the employee he'll probably have to lay off. The reply was the request would be considered, but there was no final answer.

Some consideration had been given to raising the money for the department's deficit by increasing the property tax. While that has a collection system in place and the solid waste fee would add an employee at the Accounts and Budget Office, Morgan saw the fee as "fair." Still, he recognizes that some households produce more trash than others.

Friday, the solid waste director said that "If the fee fails and the offer isn't accepted, then I've got to balance my budget to fit services to revenue."

Thomas' budget has been funded from host fees paid by Cedar Ridge. Those payments are down to about 25 percent of what they were more than a year ago as Waste Management asked the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for a permit to expand its use of land at Cedar Ridge. The answer is coming later than anticipated, so the company is accepting fewer deliveries, which reduces the value of the host fee payments.