City of Cody leaders appeared eager to start with a cheaper rate, while Powell Mayor Don Hillman and representatives from two private trash haulers expressed some reservations.
Hillman told a gathering of officials from around the county that Powell leaders — currently deciding whether to take their trash to Casper or Cody in the coming year — won’t make a decision until late February at the earliest.
“We’ve been at this for six years, and we want to make for darn sure when we get it right, that we get it right,” Hillman said.
Powell stopped taking its trash to Park County’s landfills about a year ago, when Big Horn County offered a rate of $78 a ton at its landfill in Cowley. That was $12 per ton (and about $68,000 a year) cheaper than Park County’s offer.
After the city’s decision, Park County went back to the drawing board with its rate structure.
Commissioners now say that if the major trash collectors — Powell, Cody, Meeteetse, Keele Sanitation and Two Tough Guys Services — commit to taking their trash to the regional landfill in Cody for the next six years, the county can drop the tipping fee from $90 per ton to $72.
Commissioners said if Powell doesn’t come back, the lowest rate they can offer everyone else is $78 per ton, and an eight-year commitment would be required. The county’s intent is to have contracts in place for the life of the recently constructed trash cell in Cody.
The city of Cody’s director of public works, Steve Payne, noted the decision will be up to the council, but indicated he’d like to see the city sign a $78 per ton contract soon and then renegotiate if Powell rejoins the county system.
“$78’s better than $90,” Payne noted.
Hillman, meanwhile, wants to see if the Legislature will change the landfill landscape during its upcoming session. One proposed bill would potentially give more flexibility to unlined landfills — like the one in Cowley.
Hillman said he’s been accused of selling Park County down the river for voting to send Powell’s trash to Big Horn County.
“But every decision we make, we’ve tried to consider our neighbors and so far, I think we’ve done a pretty good job,” he said.
“A little over a year ago, we were talking about tipping fees going up to over $100, $114 (a ton) and now... So we must have done something right,” said Hillman. “And I’m not saying Powell should take all the credit for that, but I think — and I’m sure (Commissioner Loren Grosskopf) will agree with me — this is not an easy thing to figure out.”
In contrast, Powell Councilman Josh Shorb indicated he was ready to get on board with Park County’s proposal.
“I think this spreadsheet has a lot of well-thought-out scenarios in it, and I think it’s a compelling argument for everybody just to get in this and stop talking about this — it’s been going on for how long?” Shorb said.
“The good thing is it gives us the ability to control our own destiny for at least (six years), and there’s a lot to be said for being able to control your destiny versus being vulnerable to the whims of whoever you might be (giving your trash),” chimed in Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown.
“And it also builds Park County’s infrastructure,” Shorb added.
The county’s proposal is the result of “hundreds” of hours of number-crunching and discussion among commissioners, landfill staff and consultants, but the basic concept is simple: the county is proposing to charge less money per load and make up the difference by charging for more things.
Currently, about 30,000 tons of waste cross the county landfills’ scales each year. About 13,000 of those tons are grass clippings, manure and other materials accepted for free. Other materials, such as concrete and shingles, are taken at a discount.
Under the new plan, nearly all of the “freebies” and discounts will stop and everything will be charged $72 per ton.
The county’s figures assume that when the rates change and some materials are no longer free, some people will just stop taking them to a county landfill. They’re assuming some 6,500 tons would start going somewhere else.
“People are going to divert some waste. It’s going to promote some recycling; things are going to happen,” said Brian Edwards, a county-hired consultant from the Cody firm Holm, Blough and Co.
“You’ll probably split in two,” said Otto Goldbach, co-owner of Two Tough Guys Services. “You’re going to recycle some, and people are just going to dump (illegally).”
If the county goes forward with its plan of charging $72 a ton for concrete instead of the current discounted rate of $18 a ton, “You’re going to have people dumping concrete everywhere,” said Joe Keele of Keele Sanitation. Chuck Keele said that price is just too high.
“Are you going to have to come back to us and say, ‘Well, we’ve got to go back up in price because we’re not getting the concrete we thought we’d get the revenue off of and the other things?’” Goldbach asked.
Commissioners and county staff acknowledged their calculations are an estimate, but said it’s a carefully considered one, and that they’ll commit to $72 a ton for the next six years.
“We’re not going to renege on that six months from now and say our volume is different,” said Commissioner Grosskopf. “We’re willing to stick with that price.”
“If we have a problem with inflation, the county’s going to eat that,” Commissioner Joe Tilden added later.
“At least for six years,” clarified Commission Chairman Bucky Hall.
Commissioners indicated it’s possible the rate could drop some more if other towns and cities across the Big Horn Basin also choose to bring their trash to Cody, but they said it’s too soon to say.
“We need to get his scenario nailed down before we start talking to other municipalities,” said Commissioner Lee Livingston.