Commissioners mull billing for trash disposal if landfill closes

Friday, January 22, 2010

Marshall County commissioners have a short-term plan on how to dispose of residents' trash if Cedar Ridge Landfill must close, but it's not been adopted partly because of billing questions.

"We are creating a revenue nightmare," Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the County Budget Committee said during the Solid Waste Committee meeting led by Commissioner Don Ledford. "I'm just airing my feelings."

An annual fee of $160 per household is believed to be enough to raise money to pay for trash disposal under the short-term plan, but it would require personnel and litigation when residents balk at paying the fee that might be billed monthly.

"Would it be easier to ... put it on the (property) tax rate?" King asked. "The billing is there."

There are about 5,600 households in Marshall County that don't receive trash services from a municipality, according to discussion during the Solid Waste Committee meeting.

Commissioner Larry McKnight asked if the fee collection could be "out-sourced" to a business that specializes in that work, and Ledford turned to Solid Waste Director Morgan Thomas who said that avenue hadn't been pursued because a computer program is available from government sources.

Noting that the software should last decades, Commission Chairman Billy Spivey indicated alternatives should be explored and King said he'd like to know if the municipalities would be part of a joint plan. Ledford pointed out the interim plan isn't to last more than a year.

How to dispose of trash seemed to be less of a problem than paying for it and it's complicated by the lack of a final answer on whether the landfill must close.

Jim Fyke, commissioner of environment and conservation, last month declined to issue a draft permit to Waste Management for expansion of Cedar Ridge Landfill. A public comment period ends at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 8. Fyke's final decision could be issued a month later. Landfill owners could appeal to the State Solid Waste Control Board.

In response to the call for comments from the state, Maury County commissioners have authorized County Mayor Jim Bailey to submit a letter saying Maury County wants the state to allow expansion of Cedar Ridge, according to the Daily Herald in Columbia.

Bailey has said he expects disposal costs to increase if Cedar Ridge can't expand, the Columbia newspaper reports.

Five Marshall County residents have sent comments saying the landfill should not expand. Environmental reasons are cited.

Comments are to be sent to Mike Apple, director, Solid Waste Management Division, 5th Floor, L&C Tower, 401 Church St., Nashville, TN 37243-1535.

Marshall County's Solid Waste Committee has been editing a resolution planned for the county commission on establishment of a short-term trash disposal system and how to pay for it.

Charging residents through their property tax bill appeared possible to County Budget Director Freda Terry after commissioners on the committee seemed to agree that bills should be sent to property owners.

Then, concerned that the landfill might be closed unexpectedly, or earlier than expected, King suggested the county consider borrowing money.

That could be through a "tax anticipation note," as mentioned by King, referring to a loan secured with the expectation of a tax with revenue dedicated for repayment of the debt.

"Suppose they give us notice tomorrow?" King asked with a reference to Waste Management. It is contractually obliged to give the county 90-days notice before it starts to withdraw from its long-term contract for solid waste service with the county.

State law empowers counties to impose solid waste disposal fees.

County Attorney Ginger Shofner redrafted a proposed resolution for such a fee. Commissioners have been reviewing that and on Jan. 14 members of the solid waste committee concluded it would be better to charge property owners and not renters.