Pitkin County landfill business in the dumps
November 10, 2009
ASPEN – As the economy goes, so goes the garbage business in Pitkin County.
The county landfill has seen a decline in its most profitable enterprises and will operate in the red in 2010, according to a budget presented Tuesday to county commissioners.
The downturn in the economy means less garbage coming into the landfill and, in particular, a significant drop in demolition debris as the development industry falters. The latter brought in nearly $800,000 in net revenue in 2008; that number will drop to about $300,000 next year, according to Chris Hoofnagle, the county’s solid waste manager.
Handling the disposal of garbage will result in a $40,693 deficit in 2010, according to the landfill budget projections, and recycling – always heavily subsidized by other operations – will run in the red by nearly $600,000.
The landfill’s aggregate operation – the separating out of rock, sand and dirt which is offered for sale – will generate an estimated $262,000 in net revenue, according to the projections.
The bottom line, Hoofnagle said, is an $84,566 deficit in landfill operations, to be covered by $7 million in accumulated savings. That surplus is allocated to a new recycling facility and to the eventual closing of the landfill, among other expenditures.
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Coming out of the landfill’s annual revenues, Hoofnagle noted, is $270,000 that goes to support the county’s general operations.
As an “enterprise fund,” the landfill is a self-sustaining operation that is not supported by tax revenues. It must pay its own way.
Certain landfill operations, particularly recycling, have always been subsidized by other operations, but the financial picture is changing, Hoofnagle said.
“The strategy we’ve been using, going forward, doesn’t seem sustainable anymore,” he said.
Among the proposals Hoofnagle pitched for 2010 is charging a $15 per ton tipping fee for haulers bringing in recyclables such as cans, glass, plastics and newspapers. In the past, the materials have been accepted free of charge, though the landfill loses money on recyclables. And this year, the landfill began paying $30 per ton to deposit the materials in Denver, where they are taken for processing.
“It has been a dramatic cost to our department,” he said.
The proposed fee is “a new concept for Pitkin County, but the other side of the coin is, we’ve been sucking up that cost for a long time,” Hoofnagle said.
Haulers are likely to pass the added cost on to consumers, he conceded.
Hoofnagle also proposed reducing the fee the landfill charges to accept construction waste (generated by construction, not demolition). The facility has long charged a fee that was intentionally high in order to discourage bulky construction waste from coming in, so as to save space and lengthen the life of the landfill, he explained.
Now, times have changed, he said, suggesting the landfill attempt to attract that business by reducing the fee it charges for construction waste by 30 percent. That would mean a fee of about $19 per cubic yard.
Commissioners took no action on Hoofnagle’s suggestions Tuesday.