CITY CORNER by Mayor Brent Hinckley
Presently there is an issue that will be discussed at the next City Council meeting on Monday concerning trash collection and disposal and questioning whether we should spend the needed money to build a new landfill in Mason. As I have been questioned about this issue and have heard comments that have been made, I am very aware that there is a good deal of inaccurate and misleading information circulating. It is impossible to share all of the factors in this decision in this limited column, but I would like to point out some important thoughts and significant numbers. One comment is that most other communities our size do not have a landfill, and as I have talked with other town leaders it seems to me that to build a landfill requires four specific needs: land on which to build a landfill, a permit to own and operate a landfill, staff with proper education, experience and licenses to operate the landfill, and the financial commitment to construct the required facilities to meet the environmental regulations. The towns that I am aware of that do not have a landfill lack two, three and often all four of these landfill requirements, but Mason is in a unique and enviable position of having three of them now and the discussion centers around whether we wish to meet the last one. Thanks to the long-term planning and commitment of previous City officials, most specifically Clinton Schultze when he served as Mayor, the City owns plenty of land on the east side of town that we have designated as an “industrial park”, but have reassigned in the past few years as the future site of our landfill. We have been working on a permit for a new landfill for at least the past four years and have spent a little more than $313,000 on legal, engineering, surveying and site analysis fees, and just last week I received word that everything has now been completed for that permit and we are just awaiting the signatures and stamps to make it official. In addition, Mason has been operating a landfill for several decades and we currently have experienced local staff that have the required licenses and training to continue operating a landfill for our residents into the future. That is three of the four needs met, which most towns cannot even consider meeting after allowing local landfill permits to expire and thus cannot see a way to reopen that municipal operation now or in the future.
The fourth part of making this decision is to look into the cost factors to build and open each of the options to handle the City and County trash, and I will try to briefly explain some of those expenses that we are working on to determine the real costs of disposing of our garbage. In all three options that I mentioned in last week’s column, we believe that it is only reasonable to assume that we will move the collection facility to the location that has been set aside for the new landfill. The current landfill will be entirely full in about twenty months, and there is no adequate land at that location to place a legitimate transfer station. Therefore, every option will require that we build a new entrance/exit ramp off of Hwy 29 that we have already permitted and estimate the cost to be about $155,200. There will also be some specific facility’s costs that will be required for any options considered and these include fencing to enclose the area of trash handling, scale house replacement for the current dilapidated structure, rebuild of the scale to move and recalibrate it, and signage to direct the public and identify the facility usage. After revising the engineer’s estimate, taking into account the “local way of doing things”, we have reduced the anticipated costs for the Entrance and Public Access facilities to $383,200 which we believe will be required for whatever garbage handling facility we choose to construct. This means that a total of $538,400 of construction costs will be needed in the next year whichever way the City Council determines is in the best interest of our community. Since these costs are all construction costs, there is very likely to be some variation once actual bids and final designs are in, but that should give you a good idea about the common expected expenses.
In considering a Type V landfill operation, or as it is more commonly known as a Transfer Station, there will be some specific expenses that will be required. These will include some specific construction to provide for a concrete pad large enough to allow for the “dumping” of the individual garbage trucks and have space for that trash to be pushed or reloaded and to some degree compacted in a transport trailer. This area will also have to have a containment curbing or berm that will prevent any liquid that comes in contact with the trash to be gathered and transported to our waste water treatment ponds. In addition, to meet the regulations this area would need to be covered to prevent any rain from coming in contact with the trash to avoid additional contamination. One estimate of these construction costs is $200,000 but the landfill engineers we have asked believe it might cost as much as twice that amount. Also, there would be garbage disposal fees at whichever landfill we transported our garbage to as well as the purchase of specialized trailers and a tuck to haul our garbage and fuel, labor and insurance costs. These annual costs will add at least $145,000 to the regular costs of collecting our trash which is currently about $427,700 in our current budget. Also, in our current budget we have anticipated a total revenue from landfill services to be $486,900 which provides that department to operate in the black for our current method of operating, but might not provide for the entire annual costs associated with transporting our trash to another landfill.
In looking at the engineer’s estimates of costs for constructing a regular Type 1 landfill according to our completed permit, we expect an additional cost of Landfill facilities improvements of $118,600. If we proceeded with building a first small trash cell of 1.83 acres, out of a total permitted area of 26 acres, calculations show that this cell would last 15 years at our current garbage usage rate and would cost $866,400 for dirt excavation, regulated liner and other associated expenses. The second option for a landfill that we have been considering is to build a larger first cell that would allow for a considerable overall cost savings due to better pricing for a larger quantity of materials. This proposal would provide an initial cell of 6.2 acres which would have a life expectancy of 61 years and would cost a total of $1,433,700. We have pages of details breaking down these estimates and providing details for estimated construction costs, but it should be understood that all of these numbers are just estimates and the final actual costs will vary. In some cases that will be of benefit to the City, and in others it might require some additional expenses. For comparison, to build the smaller initial cell would cost an estimated total of $985,000 in addition to the $538,400 common construction costs outlined above, for a total of $1,523,400. To build the larger initial cell that would provide for the City and County trash for the next six decades would be $1,552,300 which with the additional $538,400 would be a total of $2,090,700 for a new landfill. The City staff has crunched through many, many more numbers to get to this point, but this Two Million dollar landfill is not beyond reasonable for the City of Mason.
To put this into a perspective that is understandable for most of us, if these numbers are accepted as accurate, we have already investigated the possibility of financing through Certificates of Obligation, which is a standard way of handling municipal debt, the $2,090,700 at the current rate for a term of ten years would require an annual payment of about $260,000. During the past six years the City has been paying off debt for the waste water treatment plant as well as some heavy equipment, and has made an average of $270,000 of annual debt payments on time and without any significant increases in utility rates or taxes to meet those debt payments. All of the City’s debt will be paid off within the coming year, and therefore taking on this new debt would not be a burden on the finances of the City or our residents. In fact, during the past six years we have set aside an additional $200,000 in our investments and landfill closure fund, and currently we are in a strong financial position and looking at very reasonable cash flow.
After the past three weeks of spending many extra hours to investigate and recalculate the costs and the City’s position to move forward with a new landfill, I personally see no reason to throw away several years of work. In addition to the efforts, we have spent over three hundred thousand dollars of paid expenses for a new landfill permit, and it seems unwise to accept a poor substitution in a transfer station that would become an annual budgeting issue and lacks a fully explained cash flow and operational method. The permitted landfill that we have been working toward will provide a solution to the garbage issues for our community for many decades to come, and the cost is within the range of what we have already proved is possible for our municipal government. I might be wrong, I have certainly been wrong in the past, but I look forward to the City Council meeting next Monday, June 17 at 5:30 pm at the Civic Center to see if those who have proposed a transfer station can justify their concept. Please join me at that time if you have an interest in this issue and together we can come to an understanding of what might be the best solution for our town’s future. If you would like to let me know just what you think, please feel free to email me at email@example.com and I will be sure that your voice is heard.