Higher fees hurt landfill

January 23, 1997


Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners drove trash haulers away from the county's landfill when they raised dumping fees 19 months ago, Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said.

"Instead of selling more of the product we're charging more," Bowers said Wednesday. "We've priced ourselves out of the market."

Because revenues have fallen below projections for the last two budget years, county taxpayers might have to kick in nearly $5 million between 1998 and 2003 to cover operating and capital budget shortfalls associated with the county's landfills, Finance Director Debra Bastian told the commissioners on Tuesday.

The commissioners unanimously voted on June 22, 1995, to raise commercial dumping fees at the landfill on Resh Road from $40 per ton to $45 per ton and to raise permit fees for cars to $25 and for trucks to $45. Truck permit fees went up again on July 1, 1996, to $50.


Commercial dumping fees were scheduled to rise again, on July 1, 1997, to 47.50 per ton, but Solid Waste Department Director Robert Davenport has recommended that the rate remain at $45 per ton.

Bowers warned before the vote that if the fees were raised too high, commercial haulers would turn to landfills in adjoining states with lower rates, according to the minutes of the meeting.

However, it was Bowers who made the motion, seconded by Commissioner James R. Wade, to adopt the new rates.

"I didn't want any increase in rates because counties around us were lowering their rates," Bowers said.

But he voted for the rate increase because it kept the commercial fee lower than some of the proposals under consideration, Bowers said.

"I couldn't get it any lower," he said.

As Bowers predicted, the amount of trash deposited in the Washington County Sanitary Landfill has dropped.

As a result, revenues at the Resh Road landfill were $1.8 million below what had been projected for budget year 1996, Bastian said.

While 109,000 billable tons were dumped in the landfill in 1995, only 64,000 billable tons were dumped in 1996, she said.

The shortfall in expected revenue has been made up by project savings and delays, Bastian said.

An estimated $800,000 revenue shortfall is projected for this budget year and costs are expected to rise with the closure of the Resh Road landfill, a job estimated to cost about $13 million, and the opening of a new landfill on what is known as the Lund Tract off Alternate U.S. 40 in about three years, she said.

One positive effect of lower usage of the Resh Road landfill is that it will last longer, Bastian said.

Officials from two major trash hauling companies agreed with Bowers that the county's dumping fees have affected landfill use.

"The fees are not competitive with the rest of the landfills in the area. We need to keep our costs down," BFI District Vice President Ron Tuder said.

"We're looking for the most economical place to dump," Waste Management of Shenandoah Valley Division President Mike Ensor said.

Dumping fees at other landfills in the Tri-State area range from $11 per load for up to about 600 pounds at LCS Services, Inc., in Hedgesville, W.Va., to $45 per ton in Frederick County, Md.

Frederick County lowered its per ton dumping fee in December, 1995, from $52 to $45, Mike McFarland, assistant administrator of the county's Bureau of Solid Waste, said.

In budget year 1996 "we saw a 20 percent increase in waste and an 8 percent increase in revenue," McFarland said.

Haulers such as BFI have increased their dumping over the last three years, he said.

McFarland said that some of Washington County's problems could be caused by the proximity of a landfill in Franklin County, Pa., that has cheaper rates.

But some Washington County officials don't believe the landfill's fees are the only reason dumping is down.

"It's no secret that BFI wants to buy the Lund Tract landfill," Wade said.

But because the commissioners weren't interested, "I think they're pretty upset," Wade said.

Right now the county bears all the cost of building and maintaining the landfill and the hauler has no obligation to use it, Wade said.

"The county's almost at their mercy," he said.

The county needs to get an agreement from haulers guaranteeing that they will dump in the landfill a certain amount of the waste they pick up, Wade said.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey blamed a combination of increased recycling, higher dumping fees and a possible attempt by private haulers to put pressure on the county for the landfill's lower revenues.

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