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Waste review committee nearing recommendation

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — May 21, 2010 — The committee reviewing the solid waste user fee setup is inching closer to flow control, along with modifying the existing fee.
Whether or not the County Legislature will agree to the idea is another issue.
On Tuesday, committee members directed County Attorney Sam Yasgur and contracted attorney Bill Lawrence to research the legality of a system that would require all non-vacant properties to pay a flat fee (possibly with a separate fee for vacant parcels) whilst also requiring all trash generated in the county be disposed in the county.
“Without flow control,” advised Lawrence, “we won’t be able to include the tax-exempts.”
But is it legally rational and defensible, wondered committee members?
“I haven’t seen a precedent for it in any case law,” admitted Yasgur. “Have you, Bill?”
“No,” Lawrence replied.
The tipping fee would remain as-is, but with more than 23,000 of the 66,000 parcels in the county currently listed as vacant land, the revised solid waste user fee would come in at around an estimated $125 per parcel.
That would be a $40 annual increase over the current fee for residential properties, but it would be a $175 decrease for businesses.
Research continues into separating the user fees for residential and commercial properties, but the attorneys said the tipping fee would continue to address the varying rates of trash generation.
“Generation is really taken care of at the scale,” said Yasgur, referencing the scales used at the transfer stations to weigh large deliveries of trash.
He added that complex legal issues arise when the user fee, instead of the tipping fee, is tied to generation. In fact, committee members discussed calling the user fee a “waste” fee instead, as it may soon be based solely on paying for the $36 million in old landfill debt rather than usage of or access to the solid waste system.
Still, Treasurer Ira Cohen felt the user fee remains inextricably tied to generation.
“I think flow control eliminates the idea of use,” he observed, “but it seems to me this proposal is based on you being able to charge everybody who generates solid waste.”
Regardless of terminology, County Manager David Fanslau estimated the new setup could be in place by 2011, thanks to a pre-existing flow control law that the county never enforced.
But the Legislature, he added, would have to have a recommendation from the committee by mid-summer in order to debate it and then act on it before the 2011 budget development process.
Legislator David Sager during the meeting said he thought it “is the right thing to do,” but he’s one of nine who will make the final decision.
Bethel Assessor Marge Brown still worried that tiny lots in Smallwood would have fees exceeding their annual tax bills – and Neversink Assessor Gene Froehlich noted the inequity of lots large and small paying the same fee – but the committee generally seemed incline to move forward on the idea.
Deputy County Treasurer Nancy Buck cautioned, however, that transfer station hours and capacities would need to be expanded to handle the increased flow.
Fanslau said the county is also looking into a single-stream recycling model, whereby citizens would not have to separate their recyclables ahead of time in order for the county to adhere to its 1992 mandatory recycling law.
In the meantime, Fanslau agreed with Cohen on the need for a legal memorandum from the county’s attorneys indicating the new fee setup would be legally defensible. He directed that be obtained by the July 8 meeting of the Legislature’s Public Works Committee.
“I would hope,” concluded Delaware Tax Collector/Town Clerk Tess McBeath, “that somewhere it’s written down that when this debt is paid off, these people won’t be charged that fee anymore.”
That, replied Fanslau, will be the responsibility of future legislators and their constituents.
The next meeting of the waste fee review committee, which is open to the public, will be held on Tuesday, June 1 at 9 a.m. in the Government Center in Monticello.

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