August 6, 2008

‘Green’ Programs Pushing Landfill into the Red

By Barbara Carmen, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

Aug. 6--The cost of dumping trash in central Ohio will go up $2 a ton next year, while landfill officials consider new ways to pay for operations.

The current system "is sort of a Catch-22," said Bradley Frick, president of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio.

The landfill, in Jackson Township near Grove City, relies on revenue, or "tipping fees," from each ton of trash dumped there. But it also is pushing recycling, through educational programs and drop boxes, to reduce the amount of trash it gets -- and to prevent the landfill from filling up.

Dumping is down this year by nearly 20 tons, largely because people are being more frugal, buying less and recycling more, according to Ron Mills, executive director of SWACO. As a result, the authority is using money from its rainy-day fund to get through this year.

To manage next year, the authority voted 8-0 yesterday to increase fees Jan. 1, avoiding a $3 million deficit next year that could build to $20 million by 2012.

Marilyn Brown, a SWACO member and Franklin County commissioner, said it seems at odds "for us to talk about increasing the flow to the landfill, and at the same time we talk about increasing the life of the landfill."

Frick said the board needs to quickly consider new ways to pay for landfill operations.

Among the options: Charge a landfill fee for every parcel in the county that produces trash and bill it to property taxes. Such a move could stabilize SWACO's income, spare cities the cost of tipping fees and even pay for a countywide recycling program.

Each person in central Ohio produces about a ton of trash a year, Mills said, but many residents won't shoulder the fee increase in a direct way.

Those who live in Columbus and some suburbs, for example, pay for trash collection through taxes.

But those most likely to see the increase directly are residents and businesses that pay a bill for trash collection. Their costs could go up unless their government is locked into a contract with a private hauler.

Dropping off a ton of trash at the landfill will cost $35.50 starting Jan. 1, up from $33.50 a ton today. The authority's last rate change was a $1.25-per-ton increase in January 2007.

Board members said they will wait until next year to decide whether a proposed $1-a-ton fee increase will still be needed in 2010 and 2011.

SWACO's financial picture could change, they were told. An operation to mine gas emitted by the decaying trash should soon start turning a profit with fuel sales.

The authority also is planning to sell unused land and to spread out its debt to lower payments on construction projects.

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