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Opening new cell at landfill will cost $8M

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By John Barnhart

“I would really appreciate one budget session where we got all good news,” commented Board of Supervisors Chairman John Sharp.
    The bad news they got, Monday evening, is that the landfill will need to close the cell it is using and open a new one in 2018. It will cost an estimated $8 million, but the solid waste department has only accumulated $3.7 million in its capital fund for that purpose.
    How did that happen?
    According to information provided by Deputy County Administrator Frank Rogers, it’s a problem that was a decade in the making. Beginning in 2004, at a time when the landfill’s capital fund looked robust and before the recession hit, the supervisors made a series of decisions that reduced the amount of money flowing into the landfill’s capital fund.
    Tipping fees were reduced. The tipping fee is waived altogether for county residents and county businesses for trash dumped, up to a certain point. The supervisors had been reimbursing the landfill for those lost fees, but ceased doing so. There were also two large transfers, for a total of $1.5 million, from the landfill’s capital fund to the general capital improvement fund.
    “We basically balanced our budget on the back of solid waste,” Sharp commented.
    Sharp noted that the supervisors will need to find $1 million each year between now and 2018, to finance the new landfill cell.
    District 2 Supervisor Curry Martin wondered if it would be possible to hold a voter referendum on whether to raise the county tax rate to fund this.
    Rogers said that the supervisors could advertise a higher tax rate and accomplish Martin’s goal through the public hearing the supervisors must hold on the budget.
    “I don’t think we have a building that big in Bedford County,” Martin said, referring to the turnout such a hearing would probably draw.
    Sharp said they will either have to find places to cut, or identify new revenue — something that will provide $1 million per year.
    What about raising the tipping fee?
    The current commercial tipping fee is $38. Sheldon Cash said raising this to $43 would generate an additional $100,000 per year. He said most other localities charge between $40 and $43. The town of Bedford charges $60.
    And, speaking of Bedford, Cash said that there is a question as to when Bedford’s landfill will run out of space. When that happens, the town’s trash will go to the county landfill.
    No new land is needed for the county landfill. Cash said there are 229 acres on the site; only  24.7 acres have been used, so there is enough space for the next 55 to 60 years. Martin noted that “we’ll all be in a ‘landfill’ by then.”
    However cells within the landfill must be opened one at a time and doing that is the cost the supervisors are facing.
    Cash did have one bit of good news. His department is monitoring the cell and it may actually last until 2019. According to Cash, 40,000 tons of trash — 25,000 tons of it coming from the county’s collection centers — is dumped in the landfill every year.