Landfill dumping fees may rise
$1/ ton increase sought for inflation, expansion
Tuesday, August 14, 2007 3:29 AM
By Barbara Carmen
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
The cost of dumping a ton of garbage at the Franklin County landfill is poised to rise $1 a year through 2010, and some residents could see the increase passed along to them.
The proposal seems small enough; the average county household tosses about a ton of trash a year, according to the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio.
But private haulers and cities say they'll look at charging more or stretching municipal budgets that already are strained to cover basic services such as road paving and snow plowing.
In Jefferson Township, Administrator Ellen Walker said the increase could affect a three-year trash-collection contract set to begin in October for more than 3,000 households.
"Our fees have been historically quite low -- $12.22 (a month) per household," Walker said. "But we do have a provision in (the contract) that allows the bidders to pass through an increase in tipping fees."
The rate increases will cover inflation and landfill expansion, said Ronald J. Mills, assistant executive director of the Solid Waste Authority, which manages the landfill and sets fees.
Increases in dumping fees have barely kept pace with inflation, and SWACO lowered the fees at times to be more competitive with privately run landfills.
If the proposed $1 per ton increase is granted, the cost to bury a ton of trash will be $7.50 more than it was 10 years ago. When adjusted for inflation, the actual increase over a decade is less than $1.50 per ton.
Currently, the landfill charges $33.50 a ton; the fee is about $10 more at transfer stations, which collect trash closer to neighborhoods and truck it to the landfill.
Last week, the authority's board of trustees voted to hold public hearings on the proposed fee increases. The request also will be scrutinized by an advisory board representing local governments.
Jonathan Kissell, a spokesman for Rumpke Waste Inc., noted that the fee increase is speculative but said it could affect what customers pay: "There may be some adjustments we'd have to make."
His company hauls garbage from 63,000 households and 3,500 businesses in Franklin County.
For the landfill's biggest customer, the city of Columbus, the $1 rate increase would cost $350,000 next year.
"We'll take a good hard look at their numbers to see if we agree" with the need for an increase, said Assistant Public Service Director Mary Carran Webster.
"If, in the end, that's the cost of doing business, and those are the people we do business with, we have to pay the increase."
SWACO has been "smart" in spending its fees, Mills said, though the authority has drawn criticism for its spending. A few years ago, for example, it paid $535,000 to public-relations consultants and spent $195,000 to hire entertainers to perform anti-litter skits.
That money, Mills said, came from a separate account, fed by the countywide waste-generation fee of $5 per ton. Private landfill owners had sued in the mid-1990s, saying SWACO should not be able to charge the fee.
The fee was held in escrow until the suit was settled a few years later. By 2002, the authority was spending down the account that held $6.9 million. Last year, the balance was $2.3 million. The account continues to fund such programs as recycling, education, yard-waste pickups and household hazardous-waste collections.
"We aren't wallowing in money," Mills said.
Dumping fees have fluctuated with court decisions and state taxes.
In June 1994, SWACO was charging a record high $49 a ton to cover costs at both the landfill and the trash-burning power plant, newly leased from Columbus. Three months later, the courts struck down government's monopoly on trash, forcing it into competition with private landfills. The dumping fee dropped to $32 a ton.
In 2005, the state added to dumping costs a $1.50-per-ton fee for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Franklin County's tipping fee is also $7 a ton heftier to pay off debt owed on the trash-burning power plant. Payments are expected to last until 2017, although the plant was torn down in 2005.
The county landfill has, however, kept rate increases lower than others in the Midwest, according to a 2005 Tip Fee Survey by the National Solid Wastes Management Association.
In 2004, the most recent survey, the typical Midwestern landfill charged $34.96 per ton of trash, compared with $27 a ton here.
As dumping rates rise, officials point to a way out. Columbus is placing bins at 132 schools, aiming to nearly double -- to 20,000 tons -- the amount of recyclables collected each year.
"This has always been a 'green' issue for us, even before we knew of this proposed fee increase," Webster said. "That said, it is also now a financial issue. The landfill is not going to last forever."
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