October 27, 2021

Cortland County considers tipping fee hike of $5

Cortland County legislators will vote Nov. 19 whether to raise the landfill tipping fee $5 per ton instead of the originally proposed $10 per ton to help cover the cost of closing the landfill cell in the future.

That would fund closing the cell, but an operational deficit — paid for through the property tax-funded general fund — would remain.

“This has nothing to do with operational costs, this is purely post closure costs,” Charlie Sudbrink, the highway superintendent, said Tuesday during a Highway Committee meeting. “I just want to be totally transparent, so there’s no time in the future the Legislature says, ‘Well, we didn’t know anything about this.’ There is a cost after this landfill is closed.”

The Highway Committee voted, 4-3, Tuesday to raise the tipping fee to $85 per ton starting in January from $80 per ton and then increase it again in 2022 to $90 per ton. Legislators Linda Jones (R-Homer), Joe Nauseef (R-Cortlandville) and Richard Stock (D-Cortland) voted no.

Of the $85 a ton, $5 would go to closing the landfill cell, up from $3 a ton. Another $5 a ton of the $85, instead of $3, would go to an equipment reserve fund.

The county was originally set to vote on raising the tipping fee $10 per ton to $90 per ton, but the measure was pulled from the agenda of the Oct. 22 meeting and referred back to the Highway Committee.

Sudbrink had said the additional money would fund a reserve account for equipment and a reserve account to later cap the landfill cells. That cost of closing cells and the landfill is likely to exceed $20 million, according to the resolution.

The first resolution to increase the tipping fee would have made both the solid waste and recycling operations financially self-sufficient, which the county’s flow control law had intended. The law requires waste generated in the county to be taken to the county landfill. Sudbrink said $150,000 is still being taken from the general fund to cover costs, about $663,000 a year.

The county last raised the tipping fee in 2018 to $80 per ton from $65 per ton to help close an $800,000 deficit in the solid waste budget.

The new resolution would just deal with closing the landfill cell in the future.

“Historically it’s always been ‘We’ll deal with it when the time comes,’” Sudbrink said. “You can deal with it now, you can deal with it next year or you can deal with it when you close the landfill, but the bottom line is you have to deal with it.”

Committee Chairman Christopher Newell (R-Cortlandville) compared the reserve for closing the landfill to a retirement fund.

“If you never put any money away you’re probably not going to have much of a retirement 30 years from now,” Newell said. “It’s the same with this. We’re looking at over $3 million to close a cell. We’ve got to start chipping away at that.”

Legislator George Wagner (RLapeer, Marathon) asked whether Sudbrink had heard from the haulers on the $5 increase. Sudbrink said he had not.

Stock said he had.

“They think there are other ways we can get money, rather than just raising the tipping fees,” Stock said.

At an Oct. 22 Legislature meeting, Cortland Sanitation co-owner Lesa Williams raised a number of questions, including asking for an explanation for the need for the increase when trash tonnage has doubled, and how much was in the reserve account now.

County Administrator Rob Corpora addressed those concerns in a follow-up email he said he sent to Williams. The tonnage has stayed the same for several years, he said, and after closing the cell, which would cost $3 million, it would cost another $17 million over 30 years to monitor it.

“The monies needed to close the current landfill need to be obtained no later than 2039,” Corpora said. “At the current $3 per ton, the reserve will not reach the required amount until 2045. At $5 per ton, the amount needed to close the landfill will be obtained.”

The balance of the landfill reserve account to close it is $541,780.

The committee decided to meet with haulers in a special committee meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 12.

Williams said she plans to attend; she opposes the $5 increase.

“The economy, the people of this county, are hurting,” she said Wednesday. “Some people are wondering where their next meal is going to come from and they’re worried about banking money right now. I still say it’s the wrong time to do this. Haulers have suggested different things to actually cut budget but they don’t want to listen to us.”

She suggested, instead, raising the permit fee residents pay to the same amount haulers pay.

Residents are charged $10 for a permit for the whole year. Williams said she is charged $30 a year per truck. She said residents should be charged $30 per year for a permit to dump at the landfill.

“It shouldn’t matter, you’re going to use the landfill, permits are $30,” she said.