Park County dropping landfill rates

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It’s getting a little bit cheaper to dump trash at Park County’s landfills.

Last week, county commissioners voted 3-1 to lower the landfill tipping fees by about 5 percent. They’re dropping the rate for household trash from $78 to $74 per ton on July 1. What, if any, impact the decision will have on local residents’ garbage bills remains to be seen.

Commissioner Lloyd Thiel, who took office in January, led the charge on reducing the landfill charges.

“You call it a user fee, but it is a tax to the people, and I think they deserve the cut, because they’re the ones paying the bill,” Thiel said.

The landfill generally operates as a separate enterprise account, supporting itself through tipping fees and other revenue from users. However, Thiel said the landfill’s revenue is currently outpacing expenses by roughly 18 percent — and he described that as a “pretty dang good” profit margin for a private business.

“We want to fund it so it takes care of itself, but in my mind, it’s not supposed to show a profit, [because] then it does become a tax on the citizens,” agreed Commission Chairman Jake Fulkerson. “So I say move it down to lessen that burden.”

By lowering the rate for household trash to $74 a ton, staff figure the landfill department will give up about $90,200 worth of revenue a year.

Fulkerson preferred to drop the rate all the way down to $70 a ton, effectively eliminating any “profit.” He also said that, if the county stopped charging the landfill system a 5 percent “franchise fee,” the rate could theoretically drop to $66 a ton. That new fee — meant to repay the county for the time that non-landfill staffers spend helping to oversee the landfill’s operation — recently sent $91,350 from the landfill to the county’s general budget.

Outside of Fulkerson, however, commissioners felt a cushion was needed in the rates, in case something goes wrong or the landfill situation changes.

If the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality changes its regulations, if liquid garbage happens to reach groundwater or if the Cody landfill begins to have problems with methane, “stuff gets expensive in a hurry,” said Park County Landfill Manager Tim Waddell.

“It’s always easy to lower the rates,” Waddell cautioned the board, but “you know the gnashing of teeth there will be when you go to raise them.”

Commissioner Joe Tilden voted against dropping the rates. Citing “too many variables … that we’re not aware of,” he voted to leave the rate in place for the time being.

“Considering where we were and all the negotiations that have been involved, we have  gone from $90 a ton down to $78 a ton and I don’t think we’re gouging the general public,” Tilden added. “I really don’t.”

He also expressed skepticism that Park County residents would see lower garbage bills as a result of the change.

Residents or contractors who bring their own waste to the landfill will see a reduction at the gate, but those who live inside city limits or have a private company pick up their trash will have to wait and see if they’re getting a break.

Although the City of Cody is expected to save nearly $36,000, and Keele Sanitation roughly $27,500, commissioners noted it will be up to those entities to decide what to do with the savings.

Regardless of what happens with customers’ garbage bills, Thiel said that “I think no matter what it sends a direct message to the taxpayers that we’re aware, we’re not here to try to profit from you, we want to be fair.”

The drop will likely have no immediate impact on City of Powell residents. Powell leaders concluded years ago that it was cheaper to truck the city’s trash to Billings rather than to the county’s lined pit in Cody.

Fulkerson said part of the goal with last week’s discussion about the rates was “trying to entice” the City of Powell to return, but tipping fees in Billings are only $27.30 a ton. At that rate, it’s hard for the county to compete, staffers and commissioners have acknowledged.

Several different factors put the county in a position where it can now lower its rates. For example, the cost to close down some old trash pits in Powell, Clark, Meeteetse and Cody proved much less expensive than originally feared. Plus, the county was able to get several extra years of use out of an old trash cell in Cody. That means the new, lined cell in Cody won’t run out of space for about 6.5 years — three years longer than expected.

The landfill department has been building up reserves so it will have the money to either build a new cell or close up shop, with roughly $3.6 million in the bank at the moment.

Before making the motion to lower the rates, Thiel complimented county staffers and past commissioners for their conservative, advance planning.

“Basically,” he said, “you planned for the worst and you did the best.”

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