With the budget process approaching the Board of County Commissioners faces tough questions on how to handle the county’s trash.
With less than five years remaining in the life expectancy of Five Points Landfill and given the money pit that is solid waste removal, commissioners are examining myriad questions about the future of garbage collection and who picks up the tab.
That will almost certainly mean an increase in tipping fees at Five Points Landfill and possibly the end of roadside yard debris removal and the implementation of mandatory garbage pickup.
And looming over any discussion is the reality that unless the county has a permitted, operational method of disposing of solid waste, the county is prohibited by law from issuing a building permit.
During a workshop on Monday commissioners were provided the stark reality of the county’s plight by Solid Waste/Public Works director Joe Danford.
The portrait was nothing to cheer about.
The county currently, and has for years, operated the Five Points Landfill, the lone remaining landfill in the county, at a significant loss.
Several years ago that loss was close to $1 million per year but during the current fiscal year the county will lose $452,013.73, all borne by ad valorem taxpayers.
“Since it opened we have operated with negative income,” Danford said. “Five Points has never made a profit and that means the taxpayer has paid the costs all along.”
The primary problem, Danford said, was that the BOCC has over the years never charged a sufficient tipping fee, which is compounded by the lack of solid waste to sustain the landfill in the black.
The county currently charges $35 per ton.
Further, the county handles roughly 3,800 tons a year, with 99 percent of household garbage hauled out of the county.
“We can’t support a new landfill,” Danford said. “We are never going to have another landfill. It is too expensive. To my mind expansion will cost way too much. Of course, none of it is going to be cheap.
“And we can’t support an incinerator” (as in Bay County).
Five Points, opened in 1987 with a permit upgrade in 2009, also has a short shelf life.
The permit for the landfill will expire in 2018 and the county must choose between expanding the landfill, which Danford said would add roughly 10 years to the site, or move in the direction of establishing a transfer station from which the county would haul solid waste to Panama City.
Danford said the logistics of expanding the landfill would prove problematic due to wetlands issues – the recent modification to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit, three years in the approval, was to create a dome at Five Points – and due to costs.
Moving to 80 acres the county owns on the north end of the county near Wetappo would be unsuitable for the same reasons, wetlands.
The cost of dirt alone in building up a 20 acre site to suitable level, Danford said, could run $11-$12 million.
The estimate to expand the landfill, Danford said, would bring about an annual operating deficit of $664,426.14, or more than $6.6 million to taxpayers over the life of the expansion, through 2028.
That would include an increase in tipping fees to $46.50.
Establishing a transfer station on the south end – and Danford said eventually commissioners would have to create one on the north end as well – would be less costly, would require no funds be placed in escrow to handle costs associated with closing a landfill and would open up the potential for recycling.
Closing a landfill is expensive. The county currently sets aside $96,000 a year, and has for 20 years, to cover Five Points at its expiration date. The county would have to budget $320,000 a year to ultimately cover any expansion.
The transfer station, though, would be operated in the red at nearly the same cost the county currently sinks into Five Points.
The transfer station would cost the county $447,920 a year, with the potential the county could recoup at least $90,000 by recycling at the transfer station.
“I need a decision from this board and I need one by September,” Danford said, noting the time required to prepare to expansion of the landfill or creating a transfer station in the next five years. “I think a transfer station is the way to go, but it won’t magically happen.
“One transfer stations probably would not be enough to handle everything we have. Eventually you are going to have to have one at both ends of the county.”
Commissioner Carmen McLemore agreed, saying it sounded like the county would need to go the direction of a transfer station.
Commissioners also agreed with Danford’s suggestion to increase tipping fees by $5 per ton to $40.
“That would give us a place to start and I would suggest an increase every year,” Danford said, citing the higher prices charged by neighboring counties.
Given they were in a workshop, commissioners could take no formal action.
They also wondered if the roadside pickup of yard debris had to stop. The BOCC had voted to stop the pickup several years ago but since the service has returned, and some residents, one commissioner said had to come it “as an entitlement.”
But deputy administrator Michael Hammond noted that county loses $125,000 a year while removing yard debris at no cost, another burden not uniformly borne by ad valorem taxpayers while not universally used.
“The people deserve some services,” McLemore said. “I am not in favor of cutting them out.”
The discussion about mandatory garbage pickup echoed that theme.
Danford suggested it as a necessity and noted the amount of garbage that ends up on roadsides and under bridges.
“It is ending up in your parks,” Danford said. “It becomes a community problem, and a health problem.”
Commissioner Joanna Bryan said commissioners need to find the most efficient method of dealing with solid waste since taxpayers are “paying either way.”
McLemore said he had a big problem with tourists coming down and leaving their trash behind while tacking on more expense for those on a fixed income.
“It is going to be hard for me to support mandatory garbage pickup,” he said. “There are people who can’t afford mandatory garbage pickup.”
Administrator Don Butler said that mandatory garbage pickup has issues, most notably that some residents won’t pay and others will dispose of their garbage by other means.
Commissioner Tan Smiley said he no real problem with mandatory pickup since the cities already employ mandatory pickup.