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Will trash drop-off site survive?

The board that oversees the regional landfill decided to kick a decision about the landfill’s struggling finances down the road.

But the two weeks until the Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board will once again discuss the finances may buy the R-Board some valuable political time.

Those two weeks could signal to the Stafford County Board of Supervisors that the R-Board hasn’t yet dropped an idea to hand the $275,000 litter pickup program back over to the county.

That program has become a bargaining chip in discussions between Stafford and the R-Board over the latter’s finances.

The R-Board took over the litter program about five years ago to reduce the amount of litter in Stafford. Now, Stafford Supervisor and R-Board member Paul Milde has floated the idea of shedding that program to help fund the $4 million construction of more landfill space.

That idea came after Stafford supervisors rejected the R-Board’s request for $114,000 to help close an operational deficit. The R-Board also asked Fredericksburg for the $114,000, which the city approved.

“Maybe the next two weeks will, for lack of a better term, force their hand,” Stafford Supervisor and R-Board member Gary Snellings said. “Maybe if we discontinue trash pickup in the county, maybe the board will re-consider their decision not to fund the R-Board.”

A recently approved recycling contract that is expected to bring in an additional $20,000 to the landfill each month could close the R-Board’s operational gap. But after years of using reserve funds to fund operations, the R-Board has a little more than $13,000 that could be used to fund the $4 million construction of a cell, which is built to contain trash.

Landfill staff estimates $700,000 in annual debt service payments over the next seven years to fund the $4 million project.

The R-Board has more than $6 million in what it calls restricted reserve funds, but staff say those funds can’t be used to fund operations and capital projects because the state requires them to be tied to closing and monitoring landfill cells that are filled to capacity with trash.

The $275,000 saved from ending the litter program, $225,000 from closing a trash collection center in the city, plus the additional money from Fredericksburg would get the R-Board close to the estimated $700,000.

Stafford Supervisors Cord Sterling and Jack Cavalier opposed ending the litter program at a recent county infrastructure committee meeting.

“I believe we have reached a point where the Board of Supervisors aren’t going to act on this until they see what we do,” Milde said.

DEBATE OVER BELMAN

The idea of closing the Belman collection center seemed to run into political opposition of its own on Wednesday from the two new Fredericksburg representatives on the R-Board.

“I am aware of the financial problems,” R-Board member and City Councilman William Withers Jr. said. “I can tell you that I would be opposed to closing Belman. I would hope that we could work something differently. You and I both know that Stafford residents are still going there.”

Councilman Matt Kelly seemed to agree. Kelly was voted R-Board chairman Wednesday, while Milde, the previous chairman, was voted vice chairman.

“People love the Belman Road facility,” Kelly said.

Closing the Belman collection center would go hand-in-hand with ending the litter program, Milde said, because the dual responsibilities achieved parity between the city and Stafford. The R-Board picked up the center’s operation after it took on the litter program that mainly serves Stafford.

“The question is how much of a bill should we send to the city and the county to keep funding these operations by the R-Board,” Milde said. “We can’t afford to do these freebies anymore.”

Kelly said the two weeks will allow the entire financial discussion to be taken to the public and to one-on-one meetings with city and county officials.

WEIGHING A FEE INCREASE

The R-Board and Stafford supervisors have tossed around several other ideas to build up the landfill’s revenues, such as raising the fees the landfill charges commercial haulers to dump trash, charging residents to dump trash, charging the city more to dump its trash, asking for local government subsidies or decreasing the landfill hours.

At the infrastructure committee meeting, some Stafford supervisors didn’t buy arguments by landfill staff that raising fees could chase away paying customers. Supervisors asked the staff to take another look at raising fees to see if they could generate more revenue.

On Wednesday, a staff report said that an increase in the amount of trash that the landfill received in fiscal year 2014 “indicates there may be some flexibility to raise tipping fees.”

In light of that report, Milde broke from his previous position that there was no wiggle room in the commercial hauler fees. He said Wednesday that he could possibly stomach a 3 to 5 percent rise in commercial tipping fees.

A 5 percent increase in the fees would produce $154,500 more in net revenue, according to the staff report. Assuming no change in the amount of trash coming into the landfill, most of the fees would have to be raised by about 24 percent in order to generate the needed $700,000, the staff report said. The fees are tiered based on the amount of trash a hauler brings in.

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 budgeted $2.7 million in general fund support for that landfill in fiscal year 2014. A staff report said that all comparison localities have instituted a pay-as-you-throw revenue system for residents, or are subsidized by the locality.

Milde said he wouldn’t support charging residents, who currently dump their trash for free, or decreasing the hours of the landfill.

A $3 per visit residential drop-off charge could bring in $1 million in revenue, staff said. Snellings said that he is generally opposed to charging residents, and would only support a charge after other options fail.

Whatever solution the R-Board comes to this year to fix the landfill’s financial situation will be only a Band-Aid to a larger problem, Kelly said. He added that the R-Board will have to begin looking at how to bring in more than $1 million a year to replenish the landfill’s reserves, plus fund capital projects and operations.

“We need to be making a long-term solution that will involve recycling and looking at other options,” Kelly said.

Kelly took time out of his recent vacation to Germany to check out some of the country’s recycling programs and incinerators, which is an alternative method of handling waste other than letting trash decompose in the ground.

Alternative trash disposal methods have been touted as a potential revenue generator for the landfill that could extend the landfill’s life by diverting trash away from the landfill.

A group of Stafford residents remain opposed to alternative methods involving incineration, citing health and environmental concerns.

The R-Board officially rejected all four proposals it received for alternative ways of handling waste on Wednesday. The rejection was expected after Milde’s Tuesday announcement that none of the proposals received was financially beneficial.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975

vremmers@freelancestar.com

 

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