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St. Lawrence County legislators keep Solid Waste Department

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CANTON — The operations of the St. Lawrence County Solid Waste Department will continue as is with a decision Monday by legislators not to pursue outsourcing the service.

The board voted 11-4 to keep the department — which is mostly financed by user fees — rather than to seek proposals for its privatization.

“I think we’re being short-sighted by refusing to look at another side. Saving money is not what we are doing currently,” said Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, chairman of the Solid Waste Committee. “We have a lot of equipment that needs upgrading.”

Legislators decided last year to look at the department for possible sale because of escalating retirement costs and the need to update transfer stations in Massena, Ogdensburg, Gouverneur and Star Lake.

A decision was tabled pending a report on the department’s operations by the Development Authority of the North Country which generally found it competitive.

Mr. Lightfoot, who was joined by Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid; Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon; and Daniel F. Parker, R-Potsdam, wanted the county to gauge interest in the department’s assets and weigh that against the status quo.

Other legislators did not think going further made sense.

“I didn’t get anything out of the study that said we should look at privatizing,” Legislator Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur, said. “I’m going to vote tonight to stop it.”

The issue haunts workers as it has come up periodically since the department was created about 25 years ago, said William E. Powers, president of the Solid Waste division of Civil Service Employees Association.

“It just seems like this hangs over our heads. We need an answer. Are we here, or aren’t we?” he said. “We’re doing the best we can. I guess I’m asking for a decision, please.”

Since the county raised the tipping fee at the transfer stations from $107 per ton to $132 per ton, it has seen a drop in volume of 1,300 tons. Four hundred tons of the total was lost to haulers who decided to avoid the tipping fee increase by direct hauling to DANC’s regional landfill in Rodman, said Recycling Coordinator Scott A. Thornhill.

The remaining decline is not offset by a surge in recyclables and tonnage is up for Casella, the county’s largest private hauler, Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, said. An increase in the tipping fee of at least $5 is likely next year as well.

However, Mr. MacKinnon said the county operation is favored by his constituents and would have his support so long as it was paid for by users.

The drop in tonnage has caused a loss of $75,000 so far this year, so keeping the department as an enterprise fund may not be sustainable, Mr. Lightfoot said.

One of the problems of collecting quotes for full or partial privatization is the number of companies that might compete, Mr. MacKinnon said.

“Casella is about the only private sector large hauler in the county,” he said.

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