In less than two weeks, the Mono County Board of Supervisors will hold an April 19 public hearing and make its decision on a fiscal plan to rescue its Solid Waste Enterprise Fund. At its most recent meeting Tuesday, the Board put in some final streamlining on the proposal the public will consider.
Tipping fee revenue has faltered recently due to plummeting disposal amounts from the recent crash in construction. That, coupled with general cost of operations, has left the County’s Solid Waste program running in the red. Earlier this year, a series of intensive workshops with staff, the Town of Mammoth Lakes-County Liaison committee and private contractors yielded a 10-year solution to get the fund “back in black,” as it were.
Board Chairman Hap Hazard started things off on a stern note, taking issue with staff’s recent series of public meetings, only one of which was held in his district. He also thought himself a bit out of the loop on the specifics of the proposal, and floated the idea of delaying the hearing and vote pending a “full review of the figures.” Supervisor Larry Johnston, however, pointed out that, “We lose $3,000 every day we don’t take action,” an observation that wasn’t lost on Hazard, who quickly abandoned any thoughts of delay.
Much of the County’s plan is still open for discussion, but one item taken off the table was a proposed $9.25/ton additional fee beyond whatever was needed to break even that would have been banked for future use, potentially to fund creation of a long-haul transfer station in Mammoth. The additional fee, which would have boosted tipping fees from its current $50/ton to as much as $77.75/ton, met with only tepid Board support. Most supervisors were reticent to get behind it, saying they preferred keeping the cost increase lower. Johnston also was skeptical of the long-haul transfer concept, suggesting it could be a money pit (pun intended) if operational costs of hauling several hours away ran into the $80-$100/ton range.
The Board in turn set a limit on the amount of tipping fee increase. Originally, Johnston suggested a $70/ton cap “until we get in the black and the Solid Waste Task Force can resume its work.” No one wants a change in levels of service, but at the same time no one wants more fees, either, he said, bringing up that the Task Force hadn’t envisioned tipping fees going any higher than $70/ton. Supervisor Byng Hunt said he wasn’t willing to go to the $77.75/ton figure, and instead wanted to hold the increase to staff’s base proposal of $68.50, which was what the Board settled on.
Apart from the obvious fee hikes, another hot button topic during the hearing is likely to be level of service, particularly when it comes to days of operation at the various facilities. Supervisor Tim Hansen was critical of some aspects of the present plan. As put forth, 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 its days of operation to 2 per week. The Benton and Chalfant sites would remain unchanged.
“You can’t expect one part of the county to have solid waste operations 7 days a week and another part to only have them 2 days a week. It’s simply not fair,” Hansen remarked.
Solid Waste Superintendent Matt Carter said changes could certainly be instituted, but would have an impact on the fiscal part of the plan. Leaving closing days and hours of operations the same would mean adding $1/ton to the tipping fee increase. Not closing all the facilities on all County-observed holidays would mean an additional $1.25/ton on top of that.
The Board is scheduled to open the public hearing as part of its April 19 regular meeting, which will be held in Mammoth Lakes on the 3rd floor of the Sierra Center Mall.