Park County pays off landfill loans early, set to save $650,000

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Park County had a couple more decades to pay back the roughly $2.5 million that it borrowed from the state government to reclaim some of its old landfill trash pits.

But with the county landfill budget having the money in reserves, commissioners opted to instead pay that debt last month — between 16 and 20 years early.

“The old cowboy/outfitter part of me likes to see money paid back and not having it hanging over your head,” said Commission Chairman Lee Livingston. Plus, Livingston noted, repaying the three loans now will save the county more than $650,000 in interest over the coming years.

Commissioners turned the early payment into a Friday event, presenting State Treasurer Mark Gordon and State Auditor Cynthia Cloud with landfill department T-shirts and a jumbo-sized check — signed by Livingston and Park County Treasurer Barb Poley — for $2,535,303.87.

“I live in Cody, so I’m pretty excited about this and very proud of the commissioner for making this possible for Park County,” said Cloud. “That money is really important at a time when our state is in a funding need.”

Gordon thanked the county for repaying the loans early and offered congratulations on “a lot of great work.”

Park County originally got $5.45 million from the State Loan and Investment Board in 2011 — half being a grant and half a low-interest loan — to close up old pits of household garbage at the Powell, Clark and Meeteetse landfills.

“Without that help, that would have been really difficult for Park County, so we really appreciate that,” Commissioner Loren Grosskopf told Gordon and Cloud of the state funding.

Thanks to the work of county landfill and engineering staffers and to contractors who submitted lower-than-expected bids, Park County was actually able to reclaim the old pits at the Powell, Clark, Meeteetse and also the Cody landfill for less than $4 million; the county was able to give some of the money back to the state earlier this year and only remained on the hook for the roughly $2.5 million it recently paid back.

Regulations aimed at protecting groundwater from wet, household garbage spurred the closure of the old cells; the regulations ultimately led county commissioners to build and operate just one cell for household trash at the Cody landfill, which has a plastic liner for extra protection.

“We weren’t happy about when we first had to go down this road ... We fought it because we didn’t feel we needed a lined landfill,” Commissioner Tim French recalled.

Looking back now, French said the county can be proud.

“We bit the bullet and as you can see, we’re in good condition now,” he said. “[With] that lined cell, [we] did the right thing and paid back the loan, too.”

Commissioner Grosskopf told Gordon and Cloud that, “I know you can find good use for the $2.5 million” that the county is paying back.

Meanwhile, the county has saved a few million dollars from its original estimates and, as a result, officials say landfill tipping fees could drop in the future.

At Friday’s event, Cody Mayor Matt Hall also congratulated the commissioners for their fiscal responsibility.

Cody resident Doug Smith also praised the commissioners and staff for their good work, including for keeping the landfill clean and well-maintained. He told Gordon and Cloud that, “I hope that you would take this back and for future projects know that Park County ... will cowboy up and make good and pay ahead of time.”

Gov. Matt Mead and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow didn’t attend Friday’s check-passing event, but sent letters commending the county.

“I’m glad the state could assist with such community improvement and I applaud Park County for early retirement of loan debt,” Mead wrote in part. “No easy feat.”

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