Town says there’s not much to tell
Solid waste in Mono County is becoming more and more like that annoying ex-boyfriend or girlfriend that just won’t go away. The topic came up again this week at Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting as the Board commented upon a presentation given by Solid Waste Superintendent Tony Dublino a few weeks ago.
Dublino is working to nail down what Mono County would like to do going forward with its solid waste. With the Benton Crossing Landfill set to close in 2023, the County must choose whether to continue dealing with the County’s trash or hand the goop and the grim over to an outside operator. It needs to pick a path before any details can be worked out.
The Board of Supervisors, however, wants to know more about the Town of Mammoth’s Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) before it determines how it wants to proceed. The reason: Mammoth provides approximately 80 percent of the garbage that goes into the landfill and tonnage numbers will go up or down depending on its decisions.
The County has been asking the Town to see plans it has for the MRF ever since word got out that the Town planned to break ground for the MRF this spring. Former Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht had promised to give the County a memo with any details the Town had this past January, but upon the departure of Wilbrecht from the Town, the document never appeared and now the County thinks the Town is hiding something.
“There is a vacuum of information now regarding the Town’s MRF,” said Supervisor Larry Johnston. “The fees, costs and environmental report, these are big unknowns for policymakers and the public.”
Supervisor Tim Fesko was the lone voice pushing Mono County to make its own decision on how to move forward with its solid waste future.
“We need to get out of the garbage business,” Fesko said. “I would close the landfill and go long haul tomorrow if I could. Whether Mammoth stays in this or not, we need to plan to get out and set the pace.”
Johnston pointed out, however, that even with the landfill closed there would still be a pile of trash out there that the County has to monitor for at least 30 years. Johnston was in favor of trying to extend the life of landfill rather than going long haul.
“It’s not filled and we’re putting less into it so we should be able to stretch its life,” Johnston said. However, trying to stretch the landfill’s life could create a bigger issue for County because it would have to replace machinery at the dump to come into compliance with California Air Resources Board regulations that begin taking effect in 2019.
The Board seemed surprised to discover that its vehicle replacement fund does not include heavy machinery, which means the County would need to come up with approximately $3 million for equipment replacement at the dump.
“The Town has been subsidizing the program mainly for the Town of Mammoth where 80 percent of the garbage comes from,” Johnston said.
“It could be a subsidy as soon as we have to write the check for the new equipment,” Dublino added.
“We are throwing out a lot of what ifs right now,” observed Supervisor Fred Stump. “We can pose questions to the Town at next week’s Town/County Liaison meeting. “Whether or not the Town answers is a different situation, but as the new face on the block, hopefully I can bring in a new perspective.”
Stump added that the Town/County interests seem adversarial at this time. “We need to find common ground but I’m not sure there is a win/win situation.”
“When you meet with the Town, ask for specifics on the MRF,” Johnston told Stump. “This should be public information.”
“There’s also the California Public Records Act, we can request the files that way,” added Fesko.
But does the Town actually have plans to show? According to Town Public Works Director Ray Jarvis, not really.
“We have preliminary plans for the MRF but they are only at a 30 percent completion level,” Jarvis told The Sheet. “We have a draft update to the franchise agreement with Waste Connections, and we have the project description for CEQA, but we haven’t started the CEQA process yet.”
What the “plans” actually come down to at this time are two poster boards with drawings.
Jarvis said that the Town’s Attorney Andrew Morris is currently finalizing the draft of the franchise agreement to give to Waste Connections for review. Once Waste Connections receives this draft, Jarvis expects to receive three MRF options for consideration.
“The supervisors continue to suggest that the Town is hurrying the MRF process, but we have been in dialogue about this for a long time,” Jarvis added, citing letters discussing the MRF that date all the way back to 1992.
Jarvis said the Town wouldn’t know the cost to ratepayers until it chooses an exact plan.
“We’re not trying to keep anything from the public,” he said. “Once we look at the three options, we will have a better idea of the cost to ratepayers.”
Jarvis said it would most likely be a nominal fee increase for three years that would then level off.
“I think 10-12 percent is a reasonable range,” Jarvis said. Some of the cost will be determined by how much the Mammoth Firewood parcel, where a portion of the MRF will sit, ends up costing the Town.
Town Assistant Building Official Johnny Goetz added that in 2009 the citizens of Mammoth approved a 4.5 percent pass through on top of their rates to be put into a trust account for the eventual purchase of the firewood property. Currently that account has $495,000 sitting in it.
“But you need to put the idea of this increase side-by-side next to the tipping fee increase the County has implemented over the past few years,” said Pat Fenton of Waste Connections. This increase would level out and stop, but as the County receives less tonnage it will need to bring in additional revenue and may continue to increase gate fees.”
“The County’s revenue depends on tonnage,” Jarvis explained further. “The lower the tonnage, the higher the rates. They need to close the dump sooner rather than later.”
Jarvis added that the Town wants to work with the County, but that the MRF has been a Town plan for years. “It’s positive for the community of Mammoth, and we want to treat it as a regional facility, but it’s for Mammoth first and foremost. The County needs to realize this is the direction we are taking.”
Jarvis said the Town would provide the promised memo as well as the poster boards to the Board at next week’s liaison meeting on Wednesday, April 10 at 9:30 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors Conference Room, Sierra Center Mall, 3rd Floor.
“We’ll give them all the information we can,” he said.
“This is not Watergate,” Fenton added.
Jarvis reiterated that the reason Mammoth is pursuing the MRF is because the Town’s relationship with the State of California has improved recently and Jarvis, Goetz and the rest of the Town would like to see it stay that way.
“The pressure from the state has backed off because we are doing the MRF,” he said.
The MRF would be capable of acting as a regional facility, but as Jarvis, Goetz and Fenton clarified would not bring an additional garbage stream to Mammoth. It would solely bring recyclables in from areas in Inyo County.
The County may also review the parcel fee that is currently in place.
“We should direct staff to look into an increase in the parcel fee,” said Supervisor Stump. He suggested reviewing the non-year round exemption.
“A parcel fee increase won’t fly in the current economic climate,” Johnston opined.
However, Kevin Brown of DNS Waste Removal pointed out that the Board had not considered the economic climate when it raised its gate fees recently, which are reflected on the haulers.
“Why is it ok for us to pay all the time,” Brown asked.
Brown urged the Board to let the private haulers handle trash going forward. He claimed he could help the County cut $1.5 million in overhead, which it could then save to use toward closing the dump and monitoring it.
“You don’t need the Town of Mammoth to run your own system,” Brown said.
“I would be in favor of a parcel fee increase if it’s temporary and dedicated to closures [at the dump],” Fesko added.
According Mono County Assistant County Counsel Stacey Simon, “There is currently (and has been since the late 1980s) a parcel fee within both the Town and the County. It’s based on a “residential equivalent factor” of $60. What this means is that a single-family residence pays $60. Other uses pay variants of that amount, depending on the type of usage. So a duplex would be a factor of two (i.e., $120). A triplex would be $180. These amounts are billed on property tax bills.
“The parcel fees were enacted in the late ‘80s and have only been increased once —in the early 1990s.”
A new or increased parcel fee is subject to the “Procedures for increasing or imposing new Property Related Fees,” which Simon presented to the Board on Tuesday.
Whether a vote (in addition to the majority protest procedure described in the Procedures document) is required depends on the purpose of the fee.
The Town collects the parcel fee inside its incorporated area and then transfers it to the County once per year. According to Fenton the collected fees can only be used to pay for closing costs at the landfill so the Supervisors’ concern that the Town would stop handing over the parcel tax fee collected each year and instead divert it to the MRF is not an option.