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St. Lawrence County may seek proposals on Solid Waste Department

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators could decide July 9 whether to seek requests for proposals to sell the Solid Waste Department, not necessarily to privatize it, but to show lawmakers what they would give up if it continues as a county operation.

“What we want to do is provide two sides,” said Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, chairman of the Solid Waste Committee. “We’ll be looking for authorization for an RFP in taking over Solid Waste, not that it is what the committee wishes to do but so we can evaluate and make an informed decision. We’re not making any recommendation.”

Last year, the board put off discussion on the Solid Waste Department pending a study by the Development Authority of the North Country, which found it competitive. The DANC report, which assessed operations, provided a financial review and noted the county’s contractual obligations to the authority convinced many legislators to keep the department as an enterprise fund, meaning it is mostly paid for by user fees, not taxes.

Legislator Scott M. Sutherland, R-Pierrepont, said he was among that group of legislators but that the only way to look at all the options was to see if there was interest and how much the assets of the department — which runs transfer stations in Massena, Ogdensburg, Gouverneur, and Star Lake — might be worth to a commercial business.

“We really don’t have what the other side would be,” Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, said.

Legislative Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk, said the department serves the best interest of the county as an enterprise fund.

“I’m not interested in putting our employees through the emotional trauma when perhaps there is no desire to pursue this,” she said.

However, Mr. Sutherland, a member of the Solid Waste Committee, said some of the employees want to know where they stand.

“We thought this might clear it up,” he said.

If legislators do not want to pursue an RFP, they can vote against taking the issue off the table at the full board’s July meeting, Mr. Lightfoot said.

Legislators decided to look at the department for possible sale last year because of escalating retirement costs and the need to update equipment.

Some financial news was bright Monday as Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire reported the county has received $1,039,195 in Medicaid overburden payments, bringing the total the county has recouped as a result of a lawsuit it brought against the state to $2,174,518.13.

“Not every county does this and we’re making sure our local taxpayers are not paying for what they should not pay,” Social Services Commissioner Christopher R. Rediehs said.

Mr. Rediehs said it was unclear if other outstanding claims remained.

The billings were the result of the state’s decision in the 1970s to deinstitutionalize mentally ill and developmentally disabled patients and place them in less restrictive community residences. The state agreed it would reimburse counties 100 percent of their local share of the Medicaid expenses paid on behalf of qualifying individuals before Jan. 1, 2006.

Afterward, Medicaid cap legislation included the provisions.

The money will be used for general operations and could not have come at a better time, as the county had feared its fund balance could dip below $1 million by year’s end, Ms. St. Hilaire said.

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