City ponders trash fee increases to cover landfill closure estimate
Rockland — The bulk of Wednesday's city budget meeting involved examining the possibility of raising residential customer trash drop-off fees and commercial trash hauler tipping fees. A raise in fees, of up to $143 per year, is under consideration to continue generating money for the Landfill Reserve Balance.
The city's budget for 2014-15, proposed at $10.5 million in general fund appropriations, is scheduled for approval during either the June 23 or June 25 budget meeting, interim City Manager Thomas Luttrell said. At issue Wednesday was the $1.8 million Municipal Solid Waste budget.
The city landfill on Limerock Street, which accepts about 4,000 tons of construction and demolition materials each year, is estimated to be full by 2018, said David St. Laurent, solid waste facility director. This will require its closure at a cost estimated between $1.5 million and $3 million. The landfill is a major revenue generator, he said, estimated to bring in nearly $842,000 during the upcoming budget year at current fee rates.
Currently, the Landfill Reserve Balance is $929,494. Keeping residential customer trash drop-off rates at $65 per year, and commercial trash hauler rates at $110 per ton for tipping fees, would create a negative impact on landfill closure of just over $21,000, St. Laurent said.
Customers dropping off trash at the city transfer station currently pay slightly more than a dollar per week for their sticker, typically paid for an entire year in May or June. All residential trash is taken from the transfer station to an incinerator in Orrington, the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company.
St. Laurent proposed a balanced budget that would raise the drop-off rate to $143 per year for a sticker, or $2.75 per week, while raising the commercial tipping fee to $132 per ton. St. Laurent said his proposal would balance the solid waste budget while adding an additional $165,443 toward landfill closure costs, keeping it final closure estimate on track for payment. More than 3,400 tons of residential trash are picked up yearly by city's commercial trash haulers, or about 72 percent of its residential trash.
St. Laurent emphasized that any approved sticker fee increases would not be seen by residential customers until May of next year.
City councilors, who said they did not want to significantly increase trash fees, spent time with St. Laurent plugging in different sticker fee and trash tipping fee numbers to lessen the potential increases. One compromise would involve raising sticker fees for drop-off customers to $100 per year, or $1.90 per week, and commercial tipping fees to $130 per ton. That would generate close to $100,000 for the Landfill Reserve Balance.
St. Laurent said the issue basically boils down to one of two options: keep fees the way they are, save less money for the landfill closure and thereby face the prospect of having to issue bonds to cover the final closure total; or increase fees and maintain a higher level of closure funding.
The landfill makes enough revenue to cover $76,000 in losses from the recycling program, which St. Laurent said has resulted from a private firm paying customers for cardboard and scrap metal when it opened. The landfill fees help to cover costs of both recycling and residential trash dropped off from sticker customers, he said.
Still another option the council is considering is to keep the landfill open but to lessen the amount of construction materials received, thus extending its life for decades.
“Functionally, we have three years to make some kind of significant transition,” Mayor Larry Pritchett said.