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County lawmakers talk trash with Massena officials

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County lawmakers questioned Massena village officials Monday evening about their tentative plans to pull out of the county’s solid waste system and operate their own system of hauling waste to the regional landfill in Jefferson County.

The tipping fee charged by the county’s Solid Waste Department has increased by $25 over the past five years for the village of Massena, costing the municipality $100,000 more a year. The village is charged $122 per ton to use the county’s transfer station in Massena.

Massena Department of Public Works Superintendent Hassan A. Fayad said to stop the “hemorrhaging,” he has developed a plan that involves having the village operate its own transfer station which he estimated would lower the tipping fee to $94 per ton, which is $28 lower than the county’s rate and would end the steady increases.

“I didn’t see any end to it,” Mr. Fayad said. “I felt we could do it cheaper as a village.”

His plan allocates $2.85 million for capital expenses including purchasing land and equipment, constructing a transfer station and paying for three solid waste employees. It would take about 10 years to pay off the capital expenses. The village has already approved a refuse rate hike of $1.50 to help build up capital so it can create its own trash hauling system.

Mr. Fayad was joined at the county Legislature’s Finance Committee meeting by Massena Mayor James F. Hidy, who told legislators he has pushed his department heads to identify ways to save money because state revenue sources have dwindled.

“Just like the county, we’re charging our departments to lower costs. It’s going to be right across the board,” Mr. Hidy said. “We have to turn every stone over and be creative. We certainly appreciate everything we get from the county.”

County legislators said if Massena follows through with its plan, other municipalities or private businesses may follow Massena’s lead or team up with the village in operating a separate garbage disposal system.

Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Lisbon, said other haulers in the Massena area would no longer bring their waste to the county’s transfer station if they can get a lower tipping fee with the village of Massena.

“I don’t question your numbers,” Mr. Acres told Mr. Fayad. “I question why our fee is so much higher. The county needs to find a way to be competitive.”

Solid Waste Director Toby Bogart said the county would likely have to sell its Massena transfer station if it loses business from the village of Massena. He estimated his department would lose about 11,000 tons of waste per year and about $1.5 million in revenue. The Massena transfer station collects about 44 percent of the county’s waste.

He said the county’s tipping fee is higher for several reasons, including higher wages and benefits paid to county workers compared to Massena village employees. The county’s Solid Waste Department runs as an enterprise fund, meaning that users — not taxpayers — pay most of its costs. Part of the reason fees keep rising is because of “other post-employment benefits,” an accounting category meant to cover future benefit expenses such as long-term health care costs. The county is also responsible for removing leachate from several old landfills in the county that were closed down when the Development Authority of the North Country opened the Rodman landfill about 20 years ago.

Some legislators suggested the county refrain from budgeting for OPEB costs as a way to keep the tipping fee down, a move that county Treasurer Kevin Felt advised against.

“It seems like we’re doing something we don’t need to be doing,” said Legislator Donald Peck, R-Gouverneur.

Mr. Fayad said if the county finds a way to lower and stabilize its tipping fee, the village of Massena may scrap its plan to set up its own garbage system. The village would prefer to stay with the county if the numbers work, he said.

“Can we change our minds? Yes,” he told legislators. “But economically, if we can do it cheaper, I think that’s what we need to do.”

Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said he appreciated Massena officials for being forthright about their possible plan.

“You’re looking out for the taxpayers of Massena, as you should be. We’re looking out for the taxpayers of the county. I hope we’re both successful,” he said.

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