Commission rejects new tax

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A proposed $60 annual fee to fund a $210,000 deficit in Marshall County's Solid Waste budget was defeated by a 10-6 vote by county commissioners on Monday night.

There's a deficit because Cedar Ridge Landfill reduced what it will accept to 25 percent of what it received previously due to uncertainty on whether the state will let the facility expand. The landfill pays the county a host fee based on the weight of trash received for burial.

The recession - with 19.6 percent unemployment here; slow property tax collections; and six times as many people eating free meals at the Care Kitchen since it started - were reasons to vote no, Commissioner Seth Warf said.

"This is telling me that our people are hurting," said Warf who also cited an average of 20 people asking churches for help each month with their utility bills. "I don't think this is the right time."

Commissioner Don Ledford, chairman of the Solid Waste Committee that unanimously recommended the fee, said, "My heart goes out to them."

However, the state requires a solid waste program, Ledford continued. And the county has been advised by environmental engineers with Griggs & Maloney of Murfreesboro that it's "not if, but when Cedar Ridge closes," so Marshall County must be ready since the consultant advised that even if the state lets Cedar Ridge expand, that won't be a permanent solution.

Waste Management Inc. officials have said the property owned by the landfill company has space for less than a year of trash deliveries now and if the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation permits use of land at Cedar Ridge where there's a sink hole, then that will provide space for nearly seven more years of dumping.

"How can TDEC approve the expansion with major violations [at the landfill] since September?" Ledford asked.

Now, Waste Management is pumping water from Vickery Spring to a sewer since chemical tests show that spring's water has chemicals commonly found in leachate, the liquid that flows from trash.

Part of the county's solution to the solid waste issue is recycling to reduce trash the county would have to deliver for disposal elsewhere if the landfill closes, Ledford said. Recycling lowers transportation costs and tipping fees, and it generates some revenue.

Ledford also complained some people have been deliberately trying to confuse the public on solid waste issues when cooperation is needed. He also spoke of a commissioner who went to a meeting, asked questions, but left before the issue was fully discussed.

"I assume you meant me," said Commissioner Scottie Poarch who explained that he left Ledford's meeting to attend a revival. A new tax shouldn't be imposed when unemployment is high, Poarch said.

Noting many people dislike Waste Management because of Cedar Ridge Landfill, Poarch pointed to the company's offer to help with the county's recycling service of collecting materials at schools and other sites.

Without the tax, the county's recycling of industrial cardboard, office paper and other recyclables would be reduced and the department would have to eliminate one full-time job and one part-time position. Waste Management would provide the service, but, as Ledford said, "You can't just stop and start a recycling service."

Curbside recycling in Lewisburg is a city project with county help, Thomas said as the discussion turned to why residents of Lewisburg, Chapel Hill and Cornersville would be unaffected.

The municipalities either provide collection and disposal service, or contract with Waste Management for trash collection.

That's one reason residents of the municipalities wouldn't have been charged the solid waste fee. They have their own.

It was a reason given by Linda Templeton of McBride Road who spoke against the proposed fee because she pays a private hauler for trash removal and asked that such residents be exempt.

Templeton also asked commissioners to accept Waste Management's offer of help with disposal.

A totally different reason was provided by Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill for why the cities' residents couldn't be charged the solid waste tax.

It's the agreement to share some of the sales tax revenue with the county school system, said Neill, explaining the agreement says the county can't tax city residents for a service the municipality already provides.

Then, in an unusual move, the commission chairwoman traded chairs with Commissioner Mickey King so he would chair the meeting as she spoke as a resident and commissioner and not the chairwoman.

Neill first addressed Warf who had said a prominent farmer is struggling and can't afford to pay his property taxes, so another tax would be too much.

Farmers pay low property taxes because of the Greenbelt exemption, Neill said.

The solid waste issue has been discussed for a year, she continued. A consultant was hired and now that there's a fee to be imposed, people become interested.

"Guys," Neill told the commissioners, "we've got to find a solution... A vote against this is a vote for another landfill.

"Waste Management came in at the last minute" with its offer, Neill said. "If the county reduces its recycling program, it will be like not having it.

"Everybody ran to make hard decisions," she said. "This is not about getting elected next time."

Commissioner Billy Spivey interjected that a $108 annual fee was proposed to pay for services if the state doesn't authorize expansion of Cedar Ridge.

Neill acknowledged that, emphasizing the $60 annual fee was proposed to cover the deficit from fewer deliveries being accepted by the landfill.

Some other financial factors were discussed, but at the end of the discussion, which consumed much of the three-hour meeting on Monday, the vote was overwhelmingly against adding the tax.

"That's a good deal," said Sam Ralston, a county resident at the meeting.

o o o

How they voted

The 10-6 vote against establishing an annual solid waste disposal fee shows commissioners taking sides as follows.

YES - Wilford "Spider" Wentzel, Mary Ann Neill, Mickey King, Jimmy Wolaver, Don Ledford and Tony White.

NO - Seth Warf, Reynelle Peacock Smith, Phil Willis, Richard Medley, Dean Delk, E.W. Hill, Rocky Bowden, Scottie Poarch, Billy Spivey and Jimmy Stitt.

Commissioner Linda Williams-Lee abstained and Commissioner Larry McKnight was absent.