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St. Lawrence County officials work toward solutions with garbage haulers

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators met with direct-haul private garbage collectors Wednesday as the county tries to cut the cost of its Solid Waste Department, take into account the impact on businesses and reconsider who should pay for what.

Over the next few months, the county will work on how much it would charge haulers who redirect some of their loads from the Development Authority of the North Country-operated landfill in Rodman to a St. Lawrence County transfer site and how long it might guarantee a particular price in return for the increased tonnage.

The county may also ask a consultant to develop an analysis of how the costs of Solid Waste should be distributed. The department is considered an enterprise fund — meaning users of the transfer stations pay for most of its costs — but as tonnages have slipped and costs escalate, some legislators want to change how expenses are covered, such as dealing with leachate from closed landfills, following state Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines on recycling and various administrative costs they believe affect everyone who generates waste.

“We have the responsibility of making sure we’re charging everyone equally, and it’s not happening now,” said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction. “It’s the bottom line of solid waste we have to charge for. When one-third of the waste generators are paying all the common costs, you can’t get past that emergency.”

Mr. Morrill has proposed increasing a surcharge for direct haulers to the DANC landfill in Jefferson County from $4.50 per ton to $18.50 per ton. The bulk of the increase, $13 per ton, would be a new surcharge to help the county cover its underused transfer stations. The existing $4.50 per ton fee to cover leachate removal would increase to $5.50 per ton.

While the direct haulers call the surcharge a tax, Mr. Morrill said it is a user fee that he expects the companies would pass on to their customers who previously have avoided certain expenses that patrons of the transfer stations have paid.

“I don’t think it’s a charge for not using something,” Mr. Morrill said. “You’re been getting something for free.”

Sticking the bigger haulers and their customers with another fee is not the answer and will result in widespread distress, said Chester W. “Skip” Bisnett, general manager of the county’s largest private solid waste collector, Casella Waste Services, Potsdam.

“I don’t have enough people to answer 5,000 phone calls and you don’t either,” Mr. Bisnett said. “I do think you’ve had some opportunities to deal with this in the past and you haven’t.”

Officials also plan to talk with haulers who already bring their loads to the county’s transfer sites, from where the trash is taken to the DANC landfill, and with Solid Waste employees about the idea of privatization.

“Maybe we could come up with a solution that may involve a little bit of everything,” said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler.

There may be a way for the county to develop a public/private partnership without harming employees, Mr. MacKinnon said.

Some legislators said they believe the answer lies in eliminating the county Solid Waste Department.

“All these costs could be lower if the county were out of the business,” said Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid. “The writing’s on the wall. Our equipment is old. It’s a perfect opportunity.”

Mr. Bisnett urged legislators not to pick a path without proper vetting and to consider the long view as tonnages continue to drop for everyone and the state gets more serious about increased recycling and composting.

In 2004, Casella had a truck stationed at General Motors in Massena seven days a week, Mr. Bisnett said.

“That’s all gone,” he said. “That’s the challenge we all have.”

Gibson & Son, Canton, which provides service to St. Lawrence University, used to make two trips to the DANC landfill daily, but is down to one as recycling gains ground, Kathy A. Gibson said.

“This whole thing is based on the fact we’re all shrinking, and what are we going to do about that? We’re not reconciling those numbers,” Mr. Bisnett said. “We’re chewing on the same bone and the bone’s getting smaller.”

Even though the county is handling 7,000 tons of waste less than it did seven years ago, the hours at the transfer stations have not changed, Mr. Bisnett said.

“You need to cut costs,” said James N. Gibson of Gibson & Son. “I’m not asking you to fire anybody. Can’t people be shifted around?”

The county is cutting Solid Waste’s other post-employment benefit costs for 2014, an accounting change that will reduce the amount of money the county collects for a future use without being able to spend it on present needs, Mr. Morrill said.

The village of Massena should not see its costs go up while the county gets its house in order, said Hassan A. Fayad, the village’s superintendent of public works.

The village pays $122 per ton to use the county’s transfer site in Massena but could drop its costs dramatically under a public/private partnership it is considering.

“Shame on me for not looking at that,” Mr. Fayad said.

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