Dumping on County Taxpayers

June 02, 1994

The decision of the Carroll County commissioners to set an across-the-board tipping fee of $45 a ton at the landfill is puzzling, particularly if it jeopardizes the county's excellent bond rating. In effect, it appears that the commissioners decided that the rest of the population should subsidize one segment of population that dumps rubble into the landfill.

Had the commissioners followed county Comptroller Eugene Curfman's original proposal on landfill tipping fees, they wouldn't be in this predicament. His fee schedule would have covered the costs of operation as well as any future capital investment involved in opening new cells and eventually closing the entire landfill. Mr. Curfman calculated that the appropriate tipping fee would be $53 a ton, up from $40.

Unhappy with the prospect of a 33-percent jump in tipping fees, the commissioners asked for some alternatives. Judging from Mr. Curfman's revised proposals, it appears he attempted to devise a new schedule that coincided with the costs of accepting the various types of refuse. Tipping fees for general garbage would be about $49 a ton; dumping rubble would increase to between $75 and $80 a ton.

The commissioners balked, apparently listening to complaints from construction companies and haulers about the higher fees for rubble. The haulers threatened to bring their construction rubble to other counties or to neighboring Pennsylvania. That's a threat? Considering that the rubble cell at the landfill is filling up faster than planned, diverting it makes a great deal of sense.

The $45-a-ton tipping fee will not be sufficient to cover future capital costs at the landfill. This is critical because the New York bond rating agencies expressed concern last fall about the deficit in the two enterprise funds -- solid waste and water and sewer. Unless these costs are covered, the county could lose its current rating, which means that its future bond issues would carry higher interest rates. Over the life of the bonds, the additional cost to taxpayers could amount to millions of dollars.

Making construction companies cover their costs of dumping rubble is good public policy. Following the current course of action means that the rest of the county is subsidizing these companies. The majority of county taxpayers should see this as a baffling -- and odoriferous -- trade-off, indeed.

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