Ulster County’s Resource Recovery Agency (UCRRA) has given final approval to a $14.3-million budget for 2015 which calls for sharp increases in collection fees but for the third year in a row requires no direct support from county property owners.
Two years ago the county legislature approved flow control, requiring that all garbage picked up in the county had to be routed through the RRA. The measure, adopted after decades of debate, was designed to allow the agency to generate sufficient income to relieve the county government of a contractual “net service fee” that annually averaged about $2 million in recent years.
Legislature chairman John Parete, reached prior to the RRA budget meeting, said he has been advised by counsel that the county, based on its 1992 contract with the agency, could be liable for net-service-fee payments if the agency falls short of its revenue projections and needs to balance its budget. “In any event, it’s really just a hidden tax, a transfer from the county to ratepayers,” Parete explained.
Flow control raised the cost of collecting garbage by private haulers, which usually results in passing it along to their customers, from this year’s $93 a ton to $103 next year, an increase of almost 14 percent. Similar hikes were put in place for sludge disposal. Municipalities will be charged the same fee.
In what amounted to a compromise between the agency and the county supervisors’ association, municipalities will not be required to sign ten-year contracts for refuse collection. Instead, both sides agreed to a 60-day notice, which agency director Tim Rose said “amounts to a month-to-month arrangement.”
The agency also withdrew its proposal to increase so-called “pull charges” for municipality containers from $43 to $62 a ton.
At a budget public hearing two weeks ago, concerns were raised that the sharp decline in recyclables would have the dual effect of depriving the agency of revenue and costing it more money to ship garbage to a landfill in Seneca Meadows near Syracuse.
County legislator Manna Jo Greene of Rosendale, a member of the legislature’s Energy and Environmental Committee, suggested an additional agency charge of two dollars a ton for garbage removal in order to support and encourage recycling.
County supervisors’ association president Carl Chipman expressed concern that rising costs of disposal could result in the elimination of some town transfer stations. But RRA board chairman Leon Smith said the agency had no plans to move in that direction. “We do not have the authority to shut down transfer stations,” Smith said at Monday’s budget meeting at RRA headquarters off Route 32 in the Town of Ulster. “That is a town decision.”
Chipman reported that a special committee on solid waste he appointed of the supervisors from Gardiner, Marbletown, Ulster and Rochester, plus recycling coordinators Laura Petit of New Paltz and Marie Post from Saugerties, has had productive discussions with the agency and its executive director.
Smith said he has had conversations with legislator chairman Parete regarding RRA policy, but said that county executive Mike Hein had refused to meet with him. “I don’t know why,” Smith said after Monday’s RRA meeting. Hein has advocated for the change in the net-service-fee policy.
In other action, the board of directors approved a ten per cent increase in fees over a four-year period for hauling solid waste some 250 miles to Seneca Meadows. “Now you see why we have to charge like we do,” said board member Charles Landi.
Landi again advanced his idea of siting a landfill in Ulster County in order to save transportation costs and reduce the agency’s carbon footprint, but there was no discussion.
Chipman said the county should look at a regional approach to garbage disposal, adding, “But nobody wants to talk about it.”
The meeting was adjourned in memory of former executive secretary Kelly Utter, who was killed in an auto accident on Sept. 26.