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Future of Stafford landfill still unclear

The financial woes of the regional landfill came before the Stafford Board of Supervisors Tuesday in a discussion that left one supervisor leaning toward closing the landfill altogether.

“To be honest, I’m partial to the idea that the dump, whatever we want to call it, goes away after [space runs out] and we start letting the commercial haulers take it to King George,” said Supervisor Cord Sterling.

After an hour-long briefing, the board decided to refer the issue to a committee for recommendations.

The Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board that oversees the landfill is currently facing a $225,000 operational shortfall and needs $650,000 annually to fund new landfill space. Another $4 million has to be found right away in order to expand a landfill cell.

A landfill cell is built to contain trash. Currently, the $13,000 the landfill board has in reserve funds won’t come close to covering the $4 million needed for the new cell. The board has until December 2015 to have the cell up and running or risk the landfill being shut down. This year, the board asked for $114,000 from both Fredericksburg and Stafford to cover just the operating deficit. Both localities use the landfill. The Stafford Board of Supervisors rejected the subsidy.

Paul Milde, a Stafford supervisor and chairman of the R–Board, asked supervisors for the subsidy as a “short-term fix.” He also asked the board to help finance the $4 million cell expansion.

Otherwise, the board will have to consider other options that Milde did not agree with, including closing the landfill.

“We have looked at them all, and we didn’t like them. We think we have cut as much as we can,” Milde said.

Besides local government funding, the R–Board could start charging county and city residents to dump trash. Right now, residents can drop off their trash for free. The majority of the landfill’s revenue comes from commercial haulers who are charged a base fee of $41 per ton.

Another option would be to charge the city for its trash drop-off, which is also free.

Or, a staff report noted, the landfill could close.

The R–Board has sent out proposals for alternative ways of handling waste to extend the life of the landfill.

“We can wait and see what comes in with alternative solid waste [proposals],” Milde said.

Critics have said the landfill’s current financial crisis was intentionally created to pave the way for alternative methods that they say are not healthy and more expensive.

Over the past decade, the landfill has experienced a net operating loss every year except for 2005 and 2007. Reserve funds have diminished from a high of $7.4 million in 2002 to the current amount of just over $13,000.

The city and county used to contribute subsidies. In 1999, for example, the landfill received $1.2 million in funding. But in 2002 the landfill was deemed financially sustainable and subsidies were stopped.

Keith Dayton, the landfill director, pointed out in the report that neighboring localities receive some local funding. The landfill in Spotsylvania receives a $2.69 million subsidy from the county’s general fund. A Prince William landfill is supported by money paid by residents through their property tax bill.

Milde said that the board has not asked for a subsidy since 2002.

“We haven’t needed it. We have just been burning up reserves,” Milde said.

The landfill has seen a 31 percent decline in total tonnage since 2005.

Dayton attributed the bulk of that to competing landfills. The loss of government funding, the recession, greater recycling and better handling of household waste were other factors, the report said.

The R–Board has taken steps to curb the declining revenues, Dayton said.

Personnel and operational expenses have been cut by 11.2 percent over the last four fiscal years, the report states.

The board has also changed their fees. This year, the board eliminated the monetary cap on construction or demolition materials dropped off at the site. The board also increased the tipping fee for certain types of waste.

Dayton said in his report that the landfill’s tipping fees are “very competitive.”

Loudoun County’s landfill charges $62 per ton to commercial haulers while Fauquier County charges $55 per ton and Hanover County charges $50 per ton to commercial haulers.

Dayton has also explored eliminating the litter pickup service and closing the Belman collection site has been considered, but the $500,000 saved from those measures would fall short of the needed funds, according to the report. The $62,000 captured from cutting Sunday hours and extending Saturday hours would also not make much of an impact in the deficit, Dayton said.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975