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Stafford landfill friction continues

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A new proposal that would patch the regional landfill’s financial holes but end the litter program in Stafford County raised the eyebrows of some supervisors, who questioned whether there were other options.

The proposal would also involve the landfill shedding the responsibility of operating a trash collection center in Fredericksburg, which may require some political footwork to get the proposal past the three Fredericksburg members who help oversee the landfill along with three representatives from Stafford.

The changes would fix some looming financial problems for the Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board, which governs the landfill.

The R-Board is currently facing an operational deficit and must find $4 million to fund the construction of a new cell, which is built to contain trash. But the R-Board has only slightly over $13,000 in unrestricted net assets, or money that the R-Board can actually use to fund the work.

A pending recycling contract that would bring in about $200,000 in additional revenue would solve the R-Board’s operational deficit.

To finance the $4 million cell project, R-Board Chairman and Stafford Supervisor Paul Milde estimates that there would be about $700,000 in debt service required. The $300,000 from ending the litter program, $340,000 from closing the Belman collection center, plus another $165,000 that the R-Board expects to receive from Fredericksburg this year would get the R-Board to that number.

Once the R-Board has a positive cash flow, then it will have to determine who will borrow the money for the $4 million project.

A heated debate among five Stafford supervisors who attended the county’s infrastructure committee meeting Thursday crescendoed when Milde said that he would recommend that the litter program end.

Milde argued that putting the responsibility of litter cleanup back into the county’s hands was fair since the financial responsibility for it was the county’s until 2005. Milde pushed transferring the program to the R-Board at that time to combat the amount of litter in the county.

“It looked like a war zone,” Milde said.

Because the R-Board was essentially taking over picking up the county’s trash, the R-Board took over operations of the Belman trash collection center to balance the agreement with the city. Removing the responsibility of the Belman center now may cause some heartburn for Fredericksburg representatives on the R-Board, Milde added.

The prospect of ending the litter program serving the county already seemed to raise alarm for some Stafford supervisors at the committee meeting Thursday.

“That doesn’t seem like a solution to me. That will just create another problem,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Cavalier said.

The litter program currently picks up about 1 million pounds a year, the bulk of which is in Stafford.

“I’m opposed to you not cleaning up the county,” Stafford Supervisor Cord Sterling said to Milde. “If your position is to trash the county because we won’t subsidize the landfill, then that is your position.”

Only Milde and Gary Snellings, another Stafford Supervisor, serve on the R-Board and vote on the landfill’s operations. The rest of the supervisors can only make recommendations about what the R-Board should do. County Administrator Anthony Romanello is Stafford’s third representative.

“The R-Board shouldn’t be cleaning up the whole county, and then over here begging for money,” Milde said. “The free ride is over.”

The R-Board asked both Fredericksburg and Stafford, the two localities served by the landfill, for $114,000 each this year.

Fredericksburg set aside the money, but Stafford refused the subsidy, which caused the landfill issue to end up on the Stafford infrastructure committee’s lap. The committee must make a recommendation to Stafford supervisors on what to do with the landfill.

“We are not in a fiscal position to subsidize the landfill. I’m not going to put trash over teachers,” Sterling said.

Milde said that the $114,000 subsidy from Stafford is no longer on the table. He also said that tapping into more than $6 million in R-Board restricted funds, which must be restored if they are used, was off the table. The funds are restricted to meet state requirements.

Sterling and Cavalier asked landfill staff to look into raising the fees that they charge commercial haulers to dump trash at the landfill.

They don’t accept arguments made previously that the landfill has reached the point where raising the tipping fees would drive paying customers away. Landfill director Keith Dayton later said that price point is very hard to calculate.

Currently, the landfill’s base fee for commercial haulers of $41 per ton is the second lowest in the region, higher only than Spotsylvania’s $29-per-ton base fee. Spotsylvania has budgeted $2.7 million in general fund support for that landfill in fiscal year 2014.

Cavalier and Sterling also didn’t accept the argument that charging residents to dump trash would cause illegal dumping. But Milde and Snellings didn’t budge on opposing the residential drop-off charge. Both city and county residents currently dump trash for free at the landfill.

“Your phones are going to ring off the hook,” Milde said to supervisors supporting the residential drop-off charge.

Dayton said in a report that all comparison localities have instituted a pay-as-you-throw revenue system for residents, or are subsidized by the locality.

Sterling took issue with the landfill’s current tipping structure where the commercial haulers that serve Stafford are charged a tipping fee, a cost that they pass on to customers in service charges. But the city is able to dump trash for free, so Fredericksburg residents don’t have to absorb tipping fees.

The R-Board is also waiting on bids for alternative methods of handling waste at the landfill that supporters have said will extend the life of the landfill and could possibly bring in more revenue to the R-Board. Those bids are expected to be presented in early August.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975