Washington County landfill losing 10 percent of tipping fee revenue

City of Hagerstown's decision to send trash to Pa. has county facing tough decisions

January 09, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Heavy equipment crushes trash at Washington County's Forty West Landfill in this file photo.
File photo

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The City of Hagerstown’s decision to send its trash to a landfill in Pennsylvania will cost Washington County’s landfill about 10 percent of its tipping fee income, according to a county spokeswoman.

In 2011, the city disposed of about 11,820 tons of residential waste at the county-owned Forty West Landfill, paying $603,026 in tipping fees, county spokeswoman Sarah Lankford Sprecher said.

But on Jan. 1, the city switched to a new trash-collection contractor, Waste Management of Pennsylvania, which takes the garbage to Mountainview Landfill in Upton, Pa.

“It is the prerogative of the city to do what they feel is in their best interest,” Sprecher said. “Long term, it would be mutually beneficial to agree on solutions that benefit all citizens in Washington County, municipal and nonmunicipal alike.”

Use of the Pennsylvania landfill will save Hagerstown $10 per ton in landfill tipping fees, city officials have said. The city, in turn, lowered the annual refuse rate charged to residents by $8.

But for the county, the lost revenue will mean tough decisions.

The change comes as county officials have been struggling to bring operations at the landfill out of the red.

As an enterprise fund, the county’s solid-waste department must cover its own expenses through fees and other revenue, county officials have said. Landfill tipping fees, one of the department’s primary sources of revenue, subsidize less-profitable programs, including the variety of recycling programs offered by the county.

Starting July 1, the county raised its landfill permit fees, tipping fees and other disposal fees in an attempt to close a budget shortfall created by recycling program costs and declining amounts of revenue-bearing waste.

The tipping fee for residential waste was $50 per ton for the first half of 2011. It went up to $52 per ton on July 1.

The county also has eliminated several of its recycling drop boxes, citing high costs and problems with illegal dumping.

With the loss of revenue from the city, county officials are now gearing up for another round of potential cuts or fee hikes.

“Currently, we are evaluating our operating options through the budget process to determine the best course of action to further reduce expenses, given the current waste load,” Sprecher said.

The commissioners will discuss recycling options later this month, Sprecher said. If no other alternatives are available, removing more of the recycling drop boxes could be an option, she said.

In one sense, the city’s change could result in savings for the landfill. If city waste is permanently diverted from the landfill, it would add about 10 percent, or about six years, to the overall life of the landfill, which is currently about 59 years, Sprecher said.

That would allow the county to delay borrowing and reserve requirements, or remove the need for borrowing, saving on interest and operating expenses, she said.

The city has said its contract with Waste Management of Pennsylvania will remain in place for at least three years.

The city’s contract also includes yard waste and recycling pickup.

Sprecher said the city’s residential recyclables did not go to the landfill previously, but yard waste did.

“Our understanding is that, at this time, the city’s yard debris will continue to come to the county’s landfill for processing into mulch and soil amendment,” Sprecher said.

In 2011, the county landfill accepted 1,363 tons of yard debris from the city, charging $84,077 in yard debris tipping fees, she said.

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