Powell council prepares to pitch $18 million landfill tax

Posted 3/2/10

Rather than have garbage rates continue to rise, Powell leaders have pushed for a capital facilities tax that would buy them down. Additionally, they would like to see construction of a county-run network of transfer stations to allow household …

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Powell council prepares to pitch $18 million landfill tax


{mosimage} Hoping to reduce garbage bills and keep disposal sites close for all county residents, members of the Powell City Council said last week that they are pushing forward on an $18 million 1-cent capital facilities sales tax proposal for the county's landfills.To meet state and federal water quality standards, Park County plans to ultimately close its landfills in Powell, Clark and Meeteetse to household waste, and dig and line new waste cells in Cody to create a regional landfill. The estimated cost of the project is $61 million over the next 20 years.Tipping fees already have jumped from $60 to $90 per ton to help meet those costs, and, if no changes are made, they are slated to increase 8 percent every five years.

Rather than have garbage rates continue to rise, Powell leaders have pushed for a capital facilities tax that would buy them down. Additionally, they would like to see construction of a county-run network of transfer stations to allow household waste to continue being disposed of at sites in Powell, Clark and Meeteetse.

Powell representatives had scheduled a meeting with members of the Cody and Meeteetse councils last week, but the Cody Council said they needed more time, and now a subcommittee meeting between Powell and Cody on the subject is planned for this week, said Powell Mayor Scott Mangold. After meeting with Cody and Meeteetse, Powell hopes to meet with the county commissioners.

To get on the ballot, a tax first needs the approval of at least two of the three county municipalities and the County Commission.

Current projections say the $18 million tax would be collected in about three to three and a half years.

Of that sum, $15 million would be used to buy down the county's landfill tipping fees. County residents would save money, because approximately 25 percent of the tax would be paid for by visiting tourists. The additional $3 million would be used to construct a transfer station in Powell (perhaps at a cost of roughly $2.5 million), and Clark and Meeteetse (at a combined cost of about $500,000).

Funding county-wide recycling operations also was discussed as a possible part of the proposed tax at the Powell Council's work session with Cody, Meeteetse and county officials.

Commissioner Dave Burke has said he supports the plan for transfer stations across the county, but he said he's only one member of the five-commissioner board.

“What's your backup plan if they say no?” Burke asked on Monday.

Councilman John Wetzel noted that the landfill is run independently as a self-funded enterprise account, meaning that the county commission typically doesn't pay for the landfill out of the general budget.

“Why would they say no?” Wetzel asked.

While saying they had an open mind on the subject, Commissioners Tim French and Bucky Hall voiced concern earlier this month about the cost effectiveness of a transfer station in Powell.

Powell Sanitation Manager Darrell Rood has estimated that it would cost an additional $100,000 per year to start directly hauling the city's garbage to Cody.

Numbers crunched by county-hired consultant Brian Edwards say operating a transfer station could cost twice that annually, in addition to the up-front construction costs.

“It's quite a bit less for them to direct haul,” said Edwards in a separate conversation.

Edwards said his personal opinion is that Powell should try direct hauling for a few years before opting for a transfer station.

Powell officials say their trucks will quickly wear out on the increased trecks. Further, they say there are other ways to measure savings, such as by reducing truck traffic and the subsequent impacts.

Wetzel said the transfer stations should also be pitched as a county beautification measure.

With the planned closure of landfills in Powell, Clark, and Meeteetse, “We're going to have illegal dumping increase exponentially,” Wetzel said. Council members said residents might begin depositing their trash in canals and draws around the county if their trip to haul garbage is lengthened.

Commissioner Dave Burke — who has said he supports the construction of a Powell transfer station — was more optimistic. He said there were similar concerns of a rise in illegal dumping when the Powell landfill changed locations decades ago.

“People did a little bit of that, but the majority of that went away,” he said.

Councilman Don Hillman said law enforcement officers would have to make it clear that illegal dumpers would be punished.

Councilman Josh Shorb said that, while it's “fine and dandy” to get the governments on board, he noted that county voters will ultimately be the ones who must get behind the plan.

It was also noted that perhaps the most important governmental entity needing to get on board with the plan — the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, whose regulations spawned the county landfill changes — has not been approached yet.

Cody City Administrator Andy Whiteman was asked what he's heard folks saying about a landfill tax.

“I haven't heard that much,” Whiteman said. “I've heard more about the hospital.”

West Park Hospital in Cody has asked the Cody and Meeteetse councils to put a now-$14.2 million capital facilities tax on the primary ballot this year. (See related story.) The councils have yet to take action on the request. The money would be used to expand and upgrade West Park's emergency room, laboratory, patient rooms and imaging and surgical departments.

Hillman said he's talked to Cody residents who are receptive to a sales tax for the landfill because they're going to have to pay for it anyways.

“But they say if you plug West Park Hospital in there, you can kiss your (butt) goodbye,” said Hillman.

Dan Talkington, Meeteetse's director of public works, said he couldn't speak for the Town Council, but he said he believes there is support for using a tax to pay for the landfill.

“I know Meeteetse, they're on board with this,” he said.

Whiteman wasn't sure what the selling point on the transfer stations was for Cody.

“Well, what do you tell the Cody voters?” he asked.

Powell officials noted that without its garbage, Cody's tipping fees would increase by about $9 per ton (10 percent), because of economy of scale.

Earlier in the meeting, Powell City Administrator Zane Logan said Cody could either pay the higher rates with Powell's absence, or the cities could work together.