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St. Lawrence County legislators mull solid waste report


CANTON — A report on the St. Lawrence County Solid Waste Department by the Development Authority of the North Country has helped some legislators lean toward keeping the operation rather than privatizing it.

The report does not make any recommendations but presents findings that remind legislators the county has contractual financial obligations to DANC and that the goal is to find an acceptable level of service balanced against affordability.

“We don’t describe the system as being broke. We see it as being competitive,” DANC Chief Executive Officer James W. Wright told legislators during a presentation of the report. “You mirror the rest of the region in terms of what’s occurring.”

The county decided to look at the Solid Waste Department for possible sale last year because of skyrocketing retirement costs and the need to update equipment. Legislators postponed further discussion pending receipt of the DANC report, which provided an overview, including a history of the department, the partnership with DANC, an assessment of operations, a financial review and the status of closed landfills.

“We’ve kind of been acting in a holding pattern,” said Toby W. Bogart, superintendent of the county Highway Department, which oversees Solid Waste. “The report didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know. It validated what we’re doing.”

The department is run as an enterprise fund, meaning the bulk of its operations are paid by user fees, not property taxes.

Tipping fees were $125 per ton in 1992 when the Solid Waste Disposal Authority ran the operation but dropped well below that for 20 years.

“Only in the last year have you come back to that,” Mr. Wright said.

The budget changed from $3.68 million in 1996 to $3.85 million in 2012 for a total increase of less than 5 percent in 16 years, or approximately 0.3 percent annually.

“That’s why you see that low tip fee for so many years,” Mr. Wright said. “Those are laudable numbers.”

Tonnage passing through the county’s transfer stations in Massena, Ogdensburg, Gouverneur and Star Lake has not dipped even with the tipping fee increase.

Selling the transfer stations would probably not bring in their market value because of the costs of upgrades for more efficiency, liability exposure and limited available competition, the report found.

Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, who had previously favored a sale, said the report convinced him the county should retain the operations up to the point where it cannot compete.

“It kind of mollifies me for now,” he said. “I really truly believe the men themselves are doing their best.”

Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, chairman of the county Solid Waste Committee, said he expected the committee to convene in the next few weeks to talk about options presented in the report.

“It isn’t something we want to drag our feet doing,” he said. “I think we’ve got a duty to look at it.”

Options could include larger trailers filled with denser loads through compaction, a long-term capital program for equipment replacement, a more aggressive recycling program, enforcing flow control so that waste going to Franklin County instead heads to county transfer sites, alternately using Franklin County as an additional disposal site and selective privatization, such as contracting operations to a private hauler.

“I’m certain the entire board will have a discussion on where Solid Waste is going,” said Legislative Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk. “I’m leaning to maintaining it and keeping it in county hands.”

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