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Legislators look at flow control, accounting practices to drop tipping fee

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators are leaning toward beefing up flow control of solid waste so that more is directed toward its transfer stations, leading to a drop in the tipping fee and to continued survival of a public option to dispose of trash.

Legislators have spent several months working on recommendations that would bring down the tipping fee from $137 per ton, especially as Massena is considering its own transfer station to drop the costs for its residents and conceivably take in trash from others who use the county sites.

The county is also considering eliminating an accounting practice that collects money for post-employment benefit costs.

Combined, the two recommendations could drop the tipping fee by $35 to $37 per ton.

“Tonnages are on a downward spiral. We don’t want to end up pricing ourselves out,” Legislator Joseph Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said. “We did not come to these conclusions lightly. The idea is to save Solid Waste.”

Since 2007, tonnages have dropped 25 percent, Mr. Lightfoot said.

The county has a duty to perform for its citizens, Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, said.

“It’s in the public good. We have an obligation to maintain a public choice,” Mr. MacKinnon said. “I think we have to maintain that there’s some mechanism to do that. The least cost is to take it yourself.”

Some legislators were unhappy with the prospect of more control on where haulers take what they collect.

“You’re trying to create an artificial market, Soviet style,” Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, said. “This is un-American, what you’re trying to do.”

Legislator Daniel F. Parker, R-Potsdam, said the county should exhaust other options, including a robust discussion with those in business — such as Casella, the county’s largest hauler — before it started making flow control punitive.

Under the recommendations outlined by Mr. Lightfoot, Casella would be exempt from the strengthened flow control rule and could continue to use its own transfer station in Parishville and haul directly to the regional landfill in the Jefferson County town of Rodman, which is managed by the Development Authority of the North Country under a tri-county intermunicipal agreement.

St. Lawrence would not be able to handle all of Casella’s waste under its operation, Mr. Lightfoot said.

“We have equipment needs. We have site needs that need to be addressed that we can’t pay for,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is level things off.”

Many people favor keeping the system solvent, even if it makes the government officious or harsh, Legislator Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk, said.

“We have a contract with DANC,” she said. “We still have to pay the bill.”

Chester W. “Skip” Bisnett, general manager of Casella’s Potsdam division, left the Monday meeting of the legislators glad to hear his company would be left alone for the most part but with remaining questions. Forcing Casella to use the county’s transfer stations would mean job losses for some of the company’s employees.

“If we had to go, it would have a catastrophic effect,” Mr. Bisnett said. “There’s no question it will have an effect.”

A handful of haulers use Casella to bring their collections to the landfill in Rodman, Mr. Bisnett said.

The county is not the only one which has seen a drop in tonnage, he said, because of the loss of businesses in recent years, particularly General Motors. A number of haulers other than Casella go directly to the landfill in Rodman, where the tipping fee is $48.50 per ton.

County legislators voted 11-4 a year ago not to privatize the Solid Waste Department — considered an enterprise fund because most of its operations are paid by user fees.

“Judging from the last vote, there’s no appetite to do that but it is still an option,” Mr. Lightfoot said.

A committee of legislators also looked at the county partnering with a private business to run the transfer stations while it maintained ownership, but did not make that recommendation.

It did recommend the exclusion of post-employment benefit costs from Solid Waste’s budget, which will mean its books will operate in the red. The $900,000 collected for post-employment benefit costs over the last two years will instead be available for improvements at the transfer stations.

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