With much of the Mono County Solid Waste Enterprise Fund’s recent budgets based on history, the crash of the construction industry and subsequent decline in waste volume rendered revenue projections inaccurate. That set the stage for the current shortfall that, even after various unsuccessful attempts to save money, has left the SWEF running in the red about $80,000 per month.
Following weeks of intense work by the County’s Solid Waste Task Force and Town-County Liaison Committee, during the first of three public meetings Monday night in Mammoth, Solid Waste Superintendent Matt Carter outlined Mono County’s solid waste program and a preferred option that both the Board and staff hope will lead to fiscal solvency.
Between 2006 and 2008, tonnage plummeted from 47,000 to just 28,000 tons, and revenue went over the cliff with it. For 2010-2011, the SWEF is staring at a $900,000 deficit. That figure, however, includes a $1.2 million “loan” from the Mono County Board of Supervisors’ reserves last year, a bailout that isn’t meant to be annual. Assuming no changes or corrections, by 2024, the SWEF could be as much as $14 million in the hole.
Under the new plan, tipping fees to both the Town and County would go from $50/ton to $68.50/ton, and minimum gate fees would go from $1.75 to $5. In addition to a previous $1.2 million “loan” from the Board’s reserves, an additional $288,490 would be kicked in by the supervisors to offset miscellaneous administrative and legal work, as well as any state-mandated A87 billing charges. The Benton Crossing Landfill site, which takes in all the county-generated household hazardous waste, will close on all County-observed holidays. And the Walker, Bridgeport and Pumice Valley site would reduce their days of operation to 2 per week. The Benton and Chalfant sites would remain unchanged.
Privatizing solid waste in its entirety has been an idea floated several times, but Carter maintains that even if that were to be realized, the County would still be faced with the mandates [and related costs] to close landfills and transfer stations as defined by state law.
A future component, if adopted, would add an extra $9.25/ton to the tipping fee increase, bringing the total to $77.75, higher yet still well south of the $100/ton increase proposed by consultants in a 2010 report. Revenue generated by the extra $9.25/ton would be put into a separate fund, use of which would be determined later.
While Carter said the increase to $68.50/ton was designed to at least “stop the bleeding,” County Finance Director Brian Muir said the extra $9.25/ton could be used for “whatever future is decided” by the joint powers that be; one example would allow the County to purchase a parcel of land in Mammoth to develop a long-haul transfer facility, probably in association with Mammoth Disposal, which has held the transfer station operator contract with Mono County since 2001.
And any proposed increase is likely to be met with a certain amount of scrutiny. Mammoth Lakes Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez pointed to the inequity in the current system, under which Mammoth pays 56% of the cost of the County’s solid waste program, but only receives about 40% of the benefits. She also pointed out that the increased fees will mean a 10% hike to County residents, but a 17% boost to town residents. (The consultant’s proposed increase to $100/ton would have meant a 30% increase, by comparison.)
Pushback has already come from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, which uses a lot of larger 3- and 6-cubic yard dumpsters, and is reportedly opposed to any proposed increase that takes tipping fees above $70/ton.
Marysheva-Martinez was, at the end of the meeting, receptive to the solution in general, and agreed with County staff and District 1 Supervisor Larry Johnston, who was on hand, that the future would be decided by the “joint powers” that be, including the Town. She praised the results of the Task Force and Town-County Liaison’s work, saying it will “benefit both the town and the county.”
Carter indicated any increase should be enough to continue funding operations for at least the next 3 years.
More public comment can be heard at a recently scheduled third meeting on Monday, March 28, at 6:30 p.m. in the Benton Community Center. From there, the Board will review the preferred option, along with any questions and comments from the public during its regular meeting on April 5. A public hearing and vote on the option including any final language is on the agenda for the Board’s April 19 meeting, which will be held in Mammoth Lakes.