Transfer station issue heats up in Oswego County

By Debra J. Groom

Oswego County residents have been calling their county legislators in the last week since they discovered the county is looking at the possibility of closing four of five transfer stations at the end of 2015.

Legislature Chairman Kevin Gardner, R-New Haven, said some people are misinformed on what the legislature is actually doing.

He said Solid Waste Director Frank Visser, County Administrator Philip Church and County Attorney Richard Mitchell are drawing up a plan to see if the four transfer stations can be closed, the pros and cons of closing them and if it would save money.

“We are simply drawing up a plan,” Gardner said. “We have to get the facts and see what the economic impact would be.”

The plan will be given to the Infrastructure, Facilities and Technology Committee at the end of May.

Legislator Michael Kunzwiler, D-Oswego, who is the minority leader, said he has received calls on the transfer stations.

But he agreed this is just a plan being drawn up because the legislators need the facts on the issue before making any decisions.

“The transfer stations are losing too much money,” Kunzwiler said. “It has to be looked at.”

Gardner said this isn’t the first time the legislature has looked at the possibility of closing transfer stations. He said a comprehensive waste study report was done in 2006.

“This whole issue has been on the back burner since 2006,” Gardner said.

Kunzwiler said the Democratic caucus a few years ago looked at the possibility of privitizing the solid waste collection. He said a company in another county was found that runs a solid waste operation and “the place was great.”

Kunzwiler said the operation was clean and less expensive.

“These are things we should be looking at,” he said.

The only thing that upset Kunzwiler about this issue is he believes it should have been discussed by the full Legislature and not done in committee.

The solid waste department’s problem is two-fold.

One – the transfer stations are losing money. Gardner said they ran a deficit of about $500,000 in 2013. Visser said earlier this month that the system loses about 200 to 300 users each year as residents decide not to buy the punch cards or yearly stickers to use the transfer stations and instead, contract with private commercial haulers.

Two – the county is looking at a bill of about $3.5 million to fix the landfill in Volney.

“That has to come from somewhere,” Gardner said.

Visser said earlier this month that the transfer stations are supposed to be close to self sustaining, meaning they bring in enough money through the sale of punch cards and annual stickers to pay most of the costs of running the stations.

But he said use of the transfer stations has been on the decline in the last several years. He said about 250 to 300 fewer stickers and punch cards have been purchased each year, while costs to run the stations have increased.

The transfer stations are where people bring their garbage. There are three ways to pay:

  • Weigh and pay, in which people pay by the amount of garbage (by the ton) they are dropping off. The minimum is $10.
  • Punch cards. For each 13-gallon garbage bag dropped off, the homeowner gets one punch on his or her card.
  • Annual sticker. This costs $165 and allows homeowner to bring unlimited amounts of household waste for disposal.

“Right now, 15 percent of the households in the county use the transfer stations,” Gardner said. “And the other 85 percent help subsidize it. That’s the message I’m going to try to portray now.”

To save money sooner, Gardner asked Visser to see if there were some cuts that could be made now at the stations.

Visser gave a report to the Infrastructure, Facilities and Technology Committee at the end of April that proposes closing each transfer station one day a week beginning July 1. His suggested schedule shows Hannibal being closed Monday, Pulaski Tuesday, Hastings Wednesday, Oswego Thursday and Bristol Friday.

With savings in personnel (three positions), benefits and electric and heat, Visser believes $189,845 will be saved.

He also proposes some fee increases for the transfer stations that would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015. They are:

  • Tipping fees at the landfill and Energy Resource Facility up from $62 to $65
  • Construction and demolition debris fees for major haulers increase from $46 to $50.
  • Weigh and pay at the transfer stations increase from $105 to $125.
  • Alternate Daily Cover fee increase from $25 to $30. This includes mostly contaminated soil.

Visser said based on quantities disposed of in 2013, these new fees would generate almost $500,000.

Infrastructure, Facilities and Technology approved Visser’s proposal as did the Personnel and Finance Committee. The full Legislature will vote on the proposal May 15. Anyone with questions or concerns can call Gardner at 349-8230.

 

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