Stone talks trash to Coalition

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

At this month’s State Road 200 Coalition meeting, Marion County Board of Commissioners chairman Charlie Stone filled the group in on the issue of solid waste – and the county’s eight proposed actions to fix the problem.

At the start of the meeting Stone took a moment to thank Coalition president Pat Gabriel for her work on the fire rescue and ambulance issue. “We came up with an excellent program,” he said.

Then he told members he was going to “talk trash” with them before he outlined the solid waste problem and the proposed solutions, and asked for help from Coalition members. “I need your feedback,” he said.

Stone said a few years ago, the Board decided to cut back on the tonnage being put into the landfill. Instead, they built and operate a transfer station, which takes the waste to south Georgia.

“That system has worked fairly well up until approximately a year ago or so,” he said. The reason it is has not been as cost effective in the last year is largely because of rising fuel costs. “The cost of transporting it out has become very expensive.”

When the transfer station was built, the county made about $8 a ton in revenue but the county’s portion has dwindled. It has “almost gone to nothing now,” he said.

To help “stop the bleeding,” the county cut back on waste going to the transfer station and upped the amount of waste going into the landfill at Baseline Road. Originally, the county was shipping about 70 percent of the solid waste to Georgia and the other 30 percent went into the Baseline landfill.

To help build up some revenue, the county put 65 percent of the waste in landfill and only shipped 35 percent. “That lasted for a few months,” Stone said. Although it did help, it did not fix the real problem. “It helped plug the holes.”

The solid waste director went to the Board and said the only way he knew to solve the problem was to shut down the transfer station. But, he said, there is a problem with that solution. “You’re shortening the life of the landfill.”

After several meetings, the Board decided to look into the possibility of getting the Baseline landfill re-permitted and open a new landfill adjoining the current one. The county hired a consultant to explore the possible solutions.

“We are reaching for straws in some ways trying to find a solution that is acceptable, but also affordable,” he said.

On March 4, the Board met with the exception of Stone, who missed the meeting due to illness. At the meeting Commissioner Kesselring proposed actions for the waste issues. The Board voted 4 to 0, and accepted the recommendations.

Now “I need your thoughts and ideas on it,” the chairman said.

Item one reads, “Reopen the transfer station effective Oct. 1, 2008 and process 75 percent of the disposable waste through the transfer station. The other 25 percent of disposable waste will be landfilled.

“This will extend the landfill to approximately 25 years and cost approximately $38 per household per year.”

Stone said there was a positive side to this item, which is the extended life of the landfill.

Recommended action two said, “By July 1, 2009, send out a request for proposals to establish a four-year agreement for a vendor to provide transportation and disposal services for the transfer station.”

Item three is where he has an issue. “This is where I really have to take a deep breath,” he said.

Recommendation three reads: “Increase the Solid Waste Assessment to $126 per household per year effective Oct. 1, 2008 to cover the cost of out-of-county disposal to include an annual cost adjustment (i.e. $5 per household) and a 5 percent reserve (i.e. $7 per household).”

Currently customers are paying $76 per residential unit. If the proposed agenda item is passed, in 2008-09 customers will pay $126, $151 in 2009-10, $176 in 2010-11, $201 in 2011-12, $226 in 2012-13, $251 in 2013-14, $276 in 2014-15, and $301 in 2015-16.

“The meaning behind that rate boils down to one big issue,” he said. The rate hike is so the county can build up reserve funds “in order to move a waste energy incinerator plant.”

Although he likes the idea of a waste energy incinerator, he thinks doing it in eight years is little soon. “I think it probably needs to be spread out a little bit longer,” he said.

Item number four said, “Agree to increase the solid waste assessment by $25/household/year from October 2009 through 2016 (i.e. a straight line increase for eight years).”

The rest of the recommendations Stone read to the Coalition audience and then took questions.

Recommendation five: “Authorize staff to procure for the financing and the design, permitting, construction and operation of a waste-to-energy facility in Marion County by Oct. 1, 2013.”

Items six: “Locate the new waste-to-energy facility at the Baseline solid waste management facility.”

Item seven: “ Establish an estimated solid waste assessment of $226 per household per year by Oct. 1 2013 (when the new waste-to-energy facility would begin operating). Annual adjustments after 2013 would be $25 per household per year through 2016 as discussed in item four above.”

The final item is about the public hearing discussing these issues. “Establish a public hearing on June 17, 2008 to implement the new assessment increases.”

Stone encouraged the audience to come to the Commission meeting and began taking questions.

One of the members asked about recycling. Stone said, “I wish we could do five times more than we are doing.” The state of Florida expects each county to recycle a certain percentage of waste, and Marion recycles around 30 percent.

But, instead of recycling making money, it can cost money. Stone said only two recyclable items actually make money, whereas five to six items lose money.

“Recycling actually costs you money,” he said. Newspaper, which is one of at the top items recycled in Marion County, about breaks even. Metal items bring in revenue, but not a lot of them come into the county’s recycling centers.

But, Stone encourages people to recycle. The more people who recycle, the less waste that is going into the landfill.

The public hearing will be Tuesday, June 17, at 6 p.m. at the McPherson Complex.

Contact Amy Ryffel-Kragh at 854-3986 or akragh@newsrlsmc.com.