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Big Horn County offers Powell landfill deal

Park County offers nothing new

Powell City Councilmen will consider Monday whether to haul the city’s household trash to Cowley — which is offering a $78 per ton rate — or go to Cody for $90 per ton.

The two counties’ rate proposals were unsealed Tuesday at Powell City Hall. Big Horn County’s rate is $12 a ton cheaper than the $90 they have been charging their residents, while Park County commissioners chose to offer Powell no discounts, providing only a list of current rates.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy is that Park County’s rates already factor in Powell’s trash (and associated $450,000 in payments), while it would be a new source of cash for Big Horn County.

Councilmen’s decision will affect more than just city of Powell residents’ rates. If Powell starts taking its trash outside Park County, that would likely require rates to rise about $9 per ton for everyone else in the county. Residents all across Big Horn County, however, would likely enjoy the $12 per ton ($78) lower rate.

Powell leaders are looking for a new resting place for the city’s trash because the Powell landfill closed to such trash in September; the county had found upgrading the Powell site to meet new state and federal groundwater protection requirements was cost-prohibitive. The county instead built a regional landfill in Cody’s more cost-effective clay soil.

Monday night’s council discussion will likely be more complex than simply comparing the per ton rates for dumping household trash. For example, Park County provides lower rates on other types of waste at the Powell landfill and some free services Big Horn County isn’t offering.

However, city of Powell leaders have been frustrated that county commissioners have never followed through on past willingness to give the city a break to help offset Powell’s new costs to haul to Cody.

“This just take it or leave it and get it to Cody for $90 (per ton) at today’s rate ... is getting old,” City Administrator Zane Logan said during a Powell City Council meeting last month.

Park County has argued the current rates are a good deal and that it would be unfair for Powell to bail on the county as big bills come due to shut down portions of the Powell landfill. The commission is also fighting Big Horn County’s efforts to expand the Cowley landfill’s service area to include Powell — arguing to state regulators an unlined landfill shouldn’t become a regional one.

However, Park County commissioners also say nothing is off the table.

After voting on Dec. 18 to extend no discounts to Powell, Commission Chairman Loren Grosskopf said if something makes sense on a county-wide basis, “We’re willing to listen to anything.”

The city and county have disagreed on how to discuss a deal.

Powell councilmen, wanting the best deal possible, asked Park County for an offer, while commissioners, not wanting to lose any more money than they have to, want Powell to make a request for a specific discount.

“That ($90 a ton) is the best we can do if they haven’t offered us, ‘Look, it’s costing us whatever, $5 a ton to get it to Cody, please talk to us about that additional cost,’” said Commissioner Tim French after the commission’s decision.

City leaders say taking trash to Cody costs an additional $34 per ton. By comparison, Cowley costs an extra $32 per ton.

The added transportation costs could amount to about $170,000 more per year for the city of Powell.

“People need to know that the $34 a ton increase is 30 percent more on our costs,” Councilman John Wetzel said at last month’s council meeting.

Those costs are expected to drop when the city’s transfer station begins operating later this year.

Comparing the added transportation costs of $34 to Cody or $32 to Cowley, “the $2 is not a factor,” Logan said.

What mattered, he said, is the per tonnage rate.

“I’ve lived in Park County since 1963. That $2/ton is just lost in the noise, depending on the cost of diesel. I think we need to be loyal. But the point is, what are you going to charge at the landfill?” he said.

The city has encountered some criticism after it started taking some trash loads outside of Park County.

“I think they’re trying to paint Powell as the bad guys. All of a sudden, we’re not going to take our garbage down there (to Cody),” Mayor Don Hillman said last month.

Logan reiterated the point later.

“I don’t want it to be painted in Park County or Wyoming that Powell has done a disservice to Park County people,” Logan said. “Quite frankly, if you really look at the history of the last eight years of meetings, I think it could be said the other way around. But we’re moving forward.”

When Park County commissioners first determined they would have to close the Powell landfill and make Cody’s a regional one, there were some representations that Powell area residents would get a discount to deal with higher transportation costs.

As French put it as he campaigned for re-election in June 2010, “we will subsidize Powell, because it’s only fair.” He said equitable rates for anyone who has far to haul “is something I’m going to really fight (for).” He also told the Tribune in that interview that he had gotten “everybody (on the commission) to agree they would be subsidized.”

The current board — French included — is less supportive of a staggered rate structure today.

At the Dec. 18 meeting, French said he remains concerned about fairness, but said the big question now is whether rural residents and the other municipalities are willing to subsidize other landfill users like Powell. It’s also unclear how a staggered system would work and who’d receive discounts.

Commissioner Dave Burke, whose term ended this month, had suggested lowering the whole county’s rates to $85 per ton.

“The city of Powell needs to feel they’re being treated fairly by Park County,” Burke said at the commission’s Dec. 18 meeting.

Without that discount — which would cost the landfill department about $125,000 a year — Burke said the county risked losing Powell’s entire $400,000 to $500,000 worth of trash.

“I would say let’s show the effort here, let’s swallow the $125,000 and the residents of Park County will appreciate it because it will cost them slightly less money,” Burke said.

Commissioner Grosskopf, however, noted Cody, Meeteetse and the private haulers do not have an issue with the $90 per ton rate and that Powell hasn’t requested a specific reduction.

“I feel that we’re competing against ourselves, bidding against ourselves,” he said. “Nobody’s asked for that reduction.”

Grosskopf added, “If we knew $85 was the number that they (Powell) would sign for, that would be a different conversation. But we don’t know if it’s $75, we don’t know if Cowley’s going to come at $65. Maybe Cowley will come in at $90.”

The commission then voted to send Powell its current rates as their proposal.

Logan said the council will discuss the two landfill proposals at its Monday meeting, but said it’s unclear whether a decision will be made then.

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