Powell leaders were critical of the Park County Commission for offering no discounts on its $90 per ton rate and questioned commissioners who called Powell’s departure unfair to the rest of the county.
“They made the decision, it’s $90 a ton, take it or leave it. For them to try to paint Powell as the bad people who are going to hurt everyone else in Park County, I don’t agree with that,” Mayor Don Hillman said. “I don’t think the whole thing was handled right from the start.”
Commissioner Tim French disagreed, and said he worked to get Powell a subsidy years ago. The county asked Powell and Cody leaders to work out a rate structure to help Powell with its trash transportation costs, but it never went anywhere, French said.
Without Powell’s trash, Park County stands to lose $450,000 in revenue in the coming year. Those costs must be made up somehow as the county prepares to spend millions closing landfill cells in Powell, Clark, Meeteetse and Cody, French said. It’s possible the county may charge more for other landfill rates, affecting residents around Park County.
“You’re the one that’s always saying, ‘We’re all in this together,’” French said. “So why on earth would you go to Big Horn County and cost the farmers of this area? This is a farm town. Why would you make them step up and pay the bill to close your landfill?”
The county’s landfill outside Powell stopped accepting household trash in September because of the expense of meeting state and federal groundwater protection rules, forcing Powell to take its garbage elsewhere. Councilman John Wetzel said the county didn’t show willingness to work with Powell on a discount on the added transportation costs. Powell paid an additional $34 per ton to haul its trash to Cody, on top of the $90 rate.
“We got the same price back ($90 per ton),” Wetzel said.
“What’s the number you want? We’ve said all along, what’s the number?” French asked.
Councilman Eric Paul said the county needed to put the pen to paper and come up with a rate.
“You know your numbers, you know your business. That’s an unfair statement,” Paul said.
“I would have taken $89 a ton, just to show … we were all in this together,” Wetzel said.
“Alright, $89,” French responded.
The mayor and councilmen told him it was too late for that.
Seconds later, councilmen voted 5-2 to accept Big Horn County’s proposal. Councilmen Paul and Josh Shorb cast the dissenting votes. Shorb had indicated he would make a motion to table the decision for two weeks, and Paul agreed.
“We definitely have a duty to the citizens of Powell to get them the best rates and save them every penny we can without spending more than we have to,” Paul said. “That said, I guess my mind is going to the unintended consequences of our decision tonight.”
He questioned whether Powell saving $63,000 may cost residents in eastern Park County more money because they lose access to free services or have to pay more.
“The history and the discussions and the frustrations and everything aside, that’s my biggest concern right now. If those unintended consequences weren’t out there, then I don’t think I would have a problem going with Big Horn County,” Paul said.
For other councilmen, it came down to the cost.
Councilman Myron Heny said, “$63,000, at least for a year, is pretty hard to pass up since we didn’t get the 1-cent sales tax. And I think that’s what we have to look at — our bottom line.”
As a result of the council’s decision to take its trash out of the Park County landfill system, starting Feb. 1, Powell city residents will lose their ability to take a load of dry garbage to the Powell landfill each month free of charge. Hundreds of residents took advantage of that offer during summer months; dozens in the winter, according to Powell landfill data.
The Powell landfill continues to accept dry waste, such as dry garbage, construction and demolition materials, concrete, brush, metal and grass. Some of those items are accepted at a lower rate (such as concrete) or for free (grass, brush and metal).
It’s unclear whether the county will continue to offer those rates for the city, local residents and businesses.
Park County Landfill Manager Tim Waddell said those are “part of the perks” of having a landfill contract with Park County — something Powell will no longer have.
“We’ve got to reassess a lot of things,” Waddell said.
Powell’s departure from the county’s landfill system also means Powell Valley Recycling will no longer accept glass.
“We didn’t have a choice. We don’t have a place to take it,” said Mary Jo Decker, the recycling center manager.
The center’s collected glass was used as a top covering for waste at the Powell landfill. Since the landfill no longer takes household waste, there also isn’t a lot of garbage to cover, she said.
In 2011, the landfill processed about 65 tons of glass, Waddell said.
Without the city’s contract, it was a free service eliminated.
She noted that not all of the glass came from city residents, but there’s no easy way to track it.
Decker said glass was the only item reused at the Powell landfill. The center continues to collect a variety of other materials, and Decker said “we’re still an integral part of the solid waste system.”
The city will continue to take certain dry items to the Powell landfill when the county needs them.
“If they still would like our cover dirt for example, when we have it, we would be happy to take that to them,” said Gary Butts, city public services manager.
Impact of departure unclear
Commissioners have repeatedly warned that Powell’s departure could mean higher rates for the rest of the county, including for rural Powell residents who use the Powell landfill.
The county says closing the old Powell landfill cells is a $3.4 million project, though it’s already secured a federal grant for half that sum and a state loan for the remainder.
Commissioners Lee Livingston and French reiterated the argument Tuesday that Powell’s departure means the rest of the county will have to pick up the closure tab; in an interview with KULR TV of Billings, Commissioner Joe Tilden described the city of Powell as “walking away from their responsibility for closure of that landfill.”
The commission, however, indicated there will be no immediate impacts to the rest of the county’s garbage bills as a result of Powell and its $450,000 worth of trash leaving the county: Commissioner Bucky Hall said the commission doesn’t plan to raise the $90 per ton tipping fee until 2015, when it’s long been scheduled to go to $97.20.
“I think it’s been pretty well documented what the cost implications are for the county, and we’ll just press forward operating our landfills the best we can and we’ll take about a year and see how it shakes out, budgetary-wise,” Hall said. “Our landfill department hopefully might have some good numbers at budget time so we can react accordingly.”
Tilden suggested in his interview with KULR that the county might have to cut its road and bridge or buildings and grounds budget as a result of Powell leaving, though the landfill is intended to run independently from the rest of the county budget with tipping fees.
Big Horn County
The city will pay $78 per ton for anything it hauls to Cowley plus $32 per ton in transportation costs.
For Big Horn County, the decision means an additional revenue source and lower tonnage rate.
The additional revenue provided by Powell’s waste allows Big Horn County to lower its entire county’s landfill rate to $78 per ton.
When making a proposal to Powell, Big Horn County approached it like helping out a neighbor, said El Ray Bridges, vice chairman of the Big Horn County Solid Waste District.
“We talked as a neighbor, you might say,” Bridges said. He said a lot of Big Horn County residents do business in Powell and Cody.
“We’re not trying to outdo anybody else or under bid them or anything, but it would not only help us, it would help you,” Bridges told councilmen.
He said the Cowley landfill is open six days per week and may look at expanding hours if that is necessary with the additional truck loads from Powell.
Return to Park County landfill in the future?
Councilman Shorb asked whether Park County would accept Powell’s household waste again in the future.
“We’re not vindictive. If you go somewhere else — if you go to Cowley for a year or two and then come back, we’re not going to say, ‘Take a hike,’” French said. “You’d be welcomed back.”
He added that the county would like some certainty in agreements so they can better plan for the future.
Powell leaders will continue to meet with Park County, Meeteetse and Cody leaders to discuss landfill issues.
“No matter which way we go, we’ll keep going to those (meetings),” Hillman said. “Like we’ve been saying, Powell is in Park County.”
Powell is proceeding with plans for a transfer station to store its trash temporarily before taking it to a landfill.
Commissioners and Powell councilmen went nearly two years without meeting to talk with each other about garbage.
They began meeting in November after commissioners learned Powell was starting to haul some of its trash to Cowley.
Commissioners indicated in 2010 they would provide a rate break to Powell and Meeteetse area residents when they had to start hauling their trash to the regional landfill in Cody.
Wrote the commission to former Powell Mayor Scott Mangold in August 2010: “Consideration will be given to citizens outside of a 25-mile radius (of the Cody landfill) and would be charged less for tipping to compensate for the cost of transportation.”
The current commission, however, has expressed little interest in that idea and says it was up to Powell to make a request for a specific break.
While Powell leaders remained upset about the lack of a discount, commissioners apparently thought everyone in the county had settled into paying $90 per ton.
“Everybody I talked to said, ‘Yeah, I don’t like the price hike, but we have to take care of our garbage,’” French said Tuesday. “I thought everything was good until recently.”