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Garbage haulers protest St. Lawrence County fee hike; proposal tabled

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CANTON — Objections from trash hauling businesses Monday night put the brakes on a proposal to quadruple the surcharge on haulers that bypass St. Lawrence County transfer stations and take garbage directly to the Rodman landfill.

The Board of Legislators voted 10-4 to table a resolution prepared by Finance Committee Chairman Frederick S. Morrill, D-Hermon, that would boost the surcharge for direct haulers from $4.50 per ton to $18.50 per ton. The measure is expected to be discussed again at the committee’s October meeting.

Mr. Morrill’s proposal aimed to increase revenue for the county Solid Waste Department, which may be forced to increase its tipping fee to make up for reduced tonnage heading to the county’s four transfer stations.

Chester W. “Skip” Bisnett, general manager of the county’s largest private hauler, Casella Waste Services, Potsdam, described the additional cost as an unfair tax that would penalize private businesses and their customers.

“It’s a new tax on the businesses, small municipalities and homeowners who use our services,” Mr. Bisnett said. “Imposing a solid waste tax to cover your ongoing fiscal problem only kicks the can down the road.”

He estimated the higher surcharge would cost his business nearly $500,000 a year. Joined by his attorney, Mr. Bisnett questioned the legality of the proposal. Several other haulers attended the meeting, with a handful speaking out against the measure.

The bulk of the increase, $13 per ton, would be a new surcharge to help the county cover its underused assets, Mr. Morrill said. The existing $4.50 per ton fee to cover leachate removal would increase to $5.50 per ton.

Mr. Bisnett urged legislators to meet with haulers so they could offer their input about the county’s solid waste situation. Several legislators supported the idea of getting input from haulers before making a decision on how to handle the county’s Solid Waste Department.

Mr. Morrill argued that the surcharge would be an incentive to encourage haulers to use the county’s transfer stations rather than the Rodman landfill that is operated by the Development Authority of the North Country.

He argued that the surcharge would benefit St. Lawrence County by creating revenue to offset the county’s $137 per ton tipping fee.

Even with the higher surcharge, Mr. Morrill argued that Casella’s per-ton cost is still lower than if it were forced to use the county transfer stations. The company is exempt from the flow control law because county transfer stations couldn’t handle Casella’s tonnage level.

“I believe Casella Waste is saving $2.5 million a year by avoiding our transfer stations. The rest of the users are forced to make up a large part of Casella’s savings in the form of higher tipping fees,” Mr. Morrill said.

Mr. Bisnett disputed Mr. Morrill’s figures.

Massena Village Mayor James F. Hidy and the village superintendent of public works, Hassan A. Fayad, urged legislators against any change that could further increase costs for the village.

“We will not pay any additional surcharges,” Mr. Hidy said.

Legislators Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, and Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, both argued against Mr. Morrill’s proposal.

“You’re trying to solve the county’s problem by raising taxes on everyone else,” Mr. Acres said. “The best option is to sell” the solid waste system, “but we don’t have the votes.”

County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said that without the higher surcharge, she will be forced to increase the tipping fee in the developing 2015 budget.

Casella handles more than 50 percent of the county’s waste stream and operates its own transfer station. It directly hauls about 30,000 tons of trash a year to the Rodman landfill. This compares with roughly 23,000 tons collected at the county’s transfer stations.

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