ROCKLAND, Maine — As the city prepares to close its landfill, it’s considering removing the solid waste facility’s funding from property taxes and creating a fee-based system instead.
Plans call for closing the landfill between 2014 and 2016 in order to save money that the city spends on its upkeep. The closure is expected to cost the city between $3 million and $3.5 million.
The solid waste facility consists of the landfill, a transfer station and recycling and universal waste areas. These components pay for themselves, except for the transfer station, which residents pay for through taxes.
Solid waste facility Manager Dave St.Laurent wants the facility to be self-sufficient. To do this, he proposed that the City Council remove the facility from Rockland’s general fund and instead make it its own budget line. This way, the facility can keep all the revenue it generates and save for the costs of the landfill’s closure from its own budget.
St.Laurent at a Wednesday night council meeting presented four ways to approach the facility’s budget.
In the first option, the facility would continue to be paid for through city taxes with the current $10 sticker fee. This plan, however, would not pay for all the facility’s costs or for the landfill closure.
Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson expressed concern that if the city does not start saving for the landfill’s closure, Rockland might have to pay for it all at once in a few years.
“If we are not budgeting to do that, we’ll end up at the end of the road having to bond out for all that money, or we will have funded these reserve accounts,” Dickerson said at the meeting.
The second option would take the solid waste funding out of residents’ tax bills and institute a $30 user fee and a $45 a ton tipping fee. Tipping fees are $35 a ton and are only for construction debris that enters the landfill.
The council rejected the first two options and asked St.Laurent to come back with a blend of options three and four. Those plans both remove solid waste funding from taxes.
The third option calls for a $55 a year user fee and an $85 a ton tipping fee and would pay most of the transfer station costs, all of the landfill closure costs and about $230,000 for care of the landfill once it closes.
The fourth option would charge a $70 a year user fee and a $120 a ton tipping fee. This would fully fund the landfill closure and stash about $1 million away for care of the landfill after it closes.
St.Laurent said if it were not a hardship on Rockland residents, he would want to implement option four.
Dickerson said a fee-based program could save some residents money. The owner of a $150,000 home now pays about $87 in taxes toward the transfer station, plus a $10 sticker. Under the proposed plans, the most a resident would pay for regular trash disposal would be $70 a year.
Council members raised concerns about the proposed tipping rates being too high for local businesses.
“We’re not willing to go a lot higher than 3 [million dollars in fee hikes] because of the effect of it,” said Councilor Brian Harden.
Harden was particularly concerned about people who do not use the facility often and asked St.Laurent to consider an optional pay-per-bag system.
St.Laurent will meet with the City Council again at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 12, to present the councilors a plan blending options three and four. The plan then will be brought to a public hearing.
The first steps of the 80-plus-year-old landfill’s closure are beginning. According to St.Laurent, Rockland will begin laying a pipe system, which will suck in gases created by the rotting landfill waste. After a few months, once the gases are identified, they will be treated to ensure that no stench arises from the heap. This treatment can earn Rockland carbon credits.
The landfill opened in the 1930s when Rockland dumped a variety of waste into it, including dairy, fish and algae waste. The landfill, which is located in a 237-foot-deep quarry, created a stench in 2006 that emanated to Main Street.
St.Laurent said closing the landfill quickly is the cheapest way to manage the waste. The longer it sits, he said, the more expensive it will be to close.
The closure of the landfill requires engineers and heavy equipment. According to St.Laurent, Rockland must bring the waste up to the rim of the quarry and then create a mound with fill to rise over the quarry rim. The mound then must be covered with an impervious layer so water cannot trickle through the waste.
This process is expected to take until about 2016, St.Laurent said. Once it is complete, waste that would have been thrown into the landfill, including many wood products such as home construction debris and tabletops, will be diverted to another town’s landfill and Rockland will have to pay for that. Paying for someone else to take the trash, which St.Laurent expects will be about 2,000 tons a year, will be less expensive than running a landfill, he said.
With the landfill closure, Rockland residents will be encouraged to recycle more so less waste gets transported. The transfer station will give residents more opportunity to recycle items such as plastic toys, boat wrappings and more.
“We need to start practicing doing this so when our landfill is closed, we know how to do it,” St.Laurent said in the meeting.