CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Solid Waste Authority’s drop-off recycling and illegal dumping enforcement programs were the main topic of discussion between the Clearfield County Commissioners and municipal officials on Tuesday.
CCSWA officials recently distributed surveys to all of the county’s municipalities and asked if they would contribute to the costs of its recycling drop-off and illegal dumping enforcement programs.
During the public comment of the commissioners’ meeting, Cooper Township Supervisor Charles Saggese asked why the commissioners weren’t helping out the CCSWA.
Saggese said Cooper Township officials received a survey, which indicated it would cost them $5,000 to keep their recycling drop-off. Plus, he said it asked for $500 toward the illegal dumping enforcement program.
Saggese, who was present with municipal officials from Brady and Beccaria townships, said it would cost other municipalities $7,000 or $8,000 to keep their recycling drop-offs.
“Why haven’t the commissioners contributed to the CCSWA?” asked Saggese. Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said there was a lot of “misinformation out there.”
According to McCracken, the commissioners have contributed funds to the CCSWA. He noted they “footed the bill” for “top notch” legal counsel to defend the county’s solid waste plan.
McCracken said Waste Management challenged the state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) approval of the county’s 10-year solid waste plan.
McCracken explained that the county’s solid waste plan provided for a voluntary donation by the Clinton County landfill and Advanced Disposal, formerly Veolia, to the county’s recycling program.
McCracken said those voluntary donations from the landfills accounted for more than $31,000 of revenue. Also, he said the county paid out more than $263,000 to fight Waste Management.
When Saggese asked about the commissioners helping with the CCSWA’s deficit, McCracken pointed out if they hadn’t paid for the legal fight with Waste Management, it would’ve fallen on the CCSWA.
“We’re not asking to be paid back either,” said McCracken. “…We picked up a bill that was a quarter of a million dollars. I think that is pretty significant.”
Saggese said that the commissioners opposed the proposed construction of the Boggs Township landfill. However, he asked what the folks who would like to recycle are supposed to do.
County Solicitor Kim Kesner interjected, saying it wasn’t a “surprise issue,” as it’s been the case for several years now. He noted the commissioners have supported the CCSWA since its creation.
Kesner explained that Act 101 of 1988 required counties to recycle at a certain level. He said that the counties imposed a per ton fee, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled they didn’t have the authority to do.
Kesner said that the Pennsylvania legislature could have easily remedied Act 101 but has chosen not to. “Counties have been struggling with recycling ever since that time,” he said.
When the county was required to revise its solid waste plan Kesner said the commissioners asked landfill officials to assist the county with its deficit, and Veolia came to the table while others did not.
“The commissioners have spent thousands that they didn’t need to in order to defend the county’s solid waste plan, so it could pick up added revenue for its recycling program,” said Kesner.
“Do you have a pot of money in the basement of Cooper Township? When people come in and they say the supervisors don’t care can you reach into that pot and pull out money? Neither do the commissioners.”
Kesner told municipal officials that the commissioners have a certain budgeted amount. He said the only way they could put more money into the county’s solid waste programs was by raising taxes.
Kesner also argued that the pressure on government now is completely against raising taxes. He said the federal and state governments aren’t working right now because no one is willing to pay the bills.
“The county has done what it can do,” said Kesner. “The commissioners have been fighting this fight for years. They’ve been attempting to find legitimate revenue sources, so they can do this without raising taxes.”
Saggese said he felt the commissioners should build funding into the county budget to help all of the small municipalities with recycling. Kesner said that every level of government is able to afford a recycling program if it raised taxes.
“If that’s what you have to do, then maybe it should be done,” said Saggese. Commissioner Joan Robinson-McMillen said Act 101 states that the duties and responsibilities for recycling are on the municipal level, not the county.
“You’re asking us to raise taxes, which by law, is not for a responsibility of the county. I understand we’re all struggling at all levels of government like there is no tomorrow to come up with funds,” said Commissioner John A. Sobel.
“But I think because the county voluntarily did something for years, folks think it’s legally the county’s responsibility, as opposed to their own responsibility.”
Robinson-McMillen added that the commissioners aren’t doing away with the recycling program. Instead, she said they are changing it to a centralized drop-off. She said if municipalities wanted to keep their drop-off sites, they would have to pick up the costs.
“The day of government doing everything for everyone is over,” said Robinson-McMillen. McCracken also reiterated that the commissioners aren’t abandoning the program but trying to find ways to reconfigure and sustain it.
Robinson-McMillen told municipal officials that this just wasn’t a Clearfield County problem, but that Elk County and other rural counties across the state were in the same boat. She said Elk County had switched to a centralized drop-off, as well.
Robinson-McMillen said if recycling was so important to the municipalities, then their officials needed to “put their money where their mouth is.”
McCracken asked municipal officials to consider the funding requests for the drop-off recycling and illegal dumping enforcement programs separately.
McCracken admitted that the funding requests to help with the drop-off recycling program were larger for some municipalities. He felt it was more feasible to contribute the $500 for the illegal dumping enforcement program.
Saggese asked the commissioners if they would consider including funding in their 2016 budget to help the CCSWA. Robinson-McMillen said the commissioners had just started the budget process, and they had many requests to consider and a tight budget to work with.
CCSWA Director Jodi Brennan said that the recycling drop-off program currently costs the CCSWA $70,000 and it received a $34,000 credit. She said by going to a centralized drop-off, it would allow the CCSWA to live within its credit.
“It’s not going to be convenient, but it will allow us to live within our means and salvage the program,” said Brennan. She also pointed out that the tire recycling program costs $10,000 and only brings in $1,000.
Brennan said the CCSWA is working through the consideration of charging for this program in order to cover costs. “We’re constantly looking for ways to cut while we sustain and salvage something. It’s just not always going to be ideal.”
Brennan said some municipalities haven’t conducted their regular meetings, and some have tabled the CCSWA requests. She said that the CCSWA has extended the deadline to allow them to consider and respond to the recycling drop-off and illegal dumping enforcement program requests.
Brennan said to date she hasn’t had any of the municipalities agree to pay for the recycling drop-off, which she expected with it being a “hefty bill.”
She said if a cluster of smaller municipalities wanted to join and go in on a drop-off with their own vendor, the CCSWA would be willing to offer assistance with the set up and provide containers.
Robinson-McMillen said she wanted the municipal officials to know the commissioners have heard their concerns and have been trying to address them. “We all need to work together and compromise a little bit,” said Sobel.