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April 17, 2014 7:18 am

EDITORIAL: Council wise to hold off decision on landfill site

Written by Ilene Olson

On Wednesday morning, the Powell City Council and city administration put the brakes on making a final decision on where and how to haul household waste.

That was a very smart move.

The council has been considering taking much of its trash to Billings. The primary reason, we have been told, was a cost savings of $120,000 to $140,000 annually compared to taking it to the Park County Landfill in Cody.

The council is to be commended for seeking ways to save money for the city and its residents. But the process has been poorly handled, with a blatant lack of transparency and openness, and we’re glad city leaders are pausing to consider the situation before acting.

The Billings City Council, citing increasing costs and needed landfill upgrades, voted Monday to increase its landfill tipping fees paid by out-of-county-and-state customers to $23.48 per ton, up $5.86 from its previous rate of $17.62. The final cost Powell would pay would be around $26 per ton, exactly what the council was told to expect after negotiations were held between officials from the two cities earlier this year.

Still, the fact that Billings increased its out-of-state rate 33 percent is worth noting. It’s another uncertainty in this process that should give Powell’s leaders and residents pause for thought.

The council had been scheduled to vote on the matter Monday night, but after the Tribune raised a series of questions, it has been removed from the agenda.

The total cost for a one-year contract is $321,943.90, and that’s a lot of money to spend without the entire process being completely open.

With the city’s budget under strain, saving money on hauling and landfill tipping fees can make a big difference in the bottom line, and it could eventually lead to reductions in residents’ utility bills as well. That’s a good thing.

But sometimes other factors are even more important than saving money. As they crunch the numbers, we suggest Powell city leaders also consider the ripple effects and unanticipated costs that could follow a decision to haul the city’s solid waste to Billings.

A year ago, Park County was unwilling to work with Powell to reduce garbage rates at the Park County Landfill. This year, the county’s tipping rate proposal is reduced by up to $18 per ton — from last year’s rate of $90 per ton to this year’s proposal of $72 per ton with a proposed six-year contract between Park County and Powell.

That’s a considerable discount from last year’s proposal — and unlike the city of Billings’ offer, commissioners are guaranteeing the rate for the six years. But it still doesn’t address one key issue: With identical contracts, Powell and Cody still would pay the same rate for hauling their trash to the Park County Landfill, despite the fact that Powell must haul its trash about 25 more miles since the Park County Commission closed Powell’s landfill to household trash.

Powell has asked for consideration for the transportation factor. That’s a cost to the city of Powell — and to the town of Meeteetse — that the city of Cody doesn’t have to bear.

Under the circumstances, it does seem unfair, and it’s been a sticking point for Powell’s city leaders.

But is it fair — or ethical — for the city to conduct secret negotiations with Billings after Park County and Casper submitted public proposals months ago? Those quiet talks between Powell and Billings officials don’t pass the smell test, frankly.

The trucking contract is also a concern to us. While three firms went through a very public process of submitting proposals when the city was considering taking its garbage to either Casper or the Park County Landfill, only one, Dick Jones Trucking, submitted a price for the Billings venture, according to what City Administrator Zane Logan told us last month.

A Powell firm, Tri-Bell Industries, Inc., and Pab Good Trucking, LLC, of Greybull, both submitted proposals for Casper and Cody runs but were not asked the second time. Logan said he didn’t think they would be interested — but that was not accurate.

“We were not asked,” Tri-Bell owner Lloyd Sullivan said Tuesday. “We were not asked for a bid to go to Billings. We never were offered the opportunity.”

That is just plain wrong. A no-bid contract well in excess of $150,000? That alone is reason to hold up on this decision, and Logan admitted that Wednesday morning.

And is it fair for the city of Cody, the town of Meeteetse and Park County rural residents to have to pay higher tipping fees if Powell decides to take its trash elsewhere? Rates for the city of Cody, Keele Sanitation and the town of Meeteetse currently stand to be $78 a ton, which is $6 more than if Powell took its household waste to the Park County landfill.

Surely, there must be a solution that can work for everyone. We urge the county and the city to continue exploring ways to meet the needs of both. If they do not or cannot, the consequences could be far-reaching.

Park County’s local governments have cooperated and worked together on other topics in the past. So it is frustrating that city and county leaders have been squabbling over trash for years and driving a rift between the sister communities.

It’s important to Powell and the entire county that a new building planned for the Park County Fairgrounds is funded. We wonder if taking a money-first approach on garbage may cause others in the county to wonder if they should invest in a Powell facility.

After all, they point out, they will have to pay higher fees for disposing of their trash if Powell takes its garbage elsewhere.

Powell benefitted from another Wyoming community in 2012 and 2013, when Sublette County, in the midst of prosperous times, sold four vehicles to Powell for $10 apiece. The county just wanted to help others out, it said, and we think that’s a worthy sentiment.

Ripple effects of taking Powell’s trash to the Billings landfill could spread farther yet. For instance, the commission and two of the county’s three municipalities must sign off on any proposal for specific purpose sales tax projects to be included on an election ballot, and that’s one of the possible funding mechanisms under consideration by Powell Valley Healthcare for future building projects. Ultimately, of course, no proposal in any of the county’s communities can become a reality without approval of a majority of the county’s voters.

In these and other ways, a lack of cooperation between the county and its communities could have serious consequences for any and all of them. We urge the city and county to take time to work together to come up with a solution that will be for the good of all.

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