Trash Talk: Cecil County Landfill Fees Rise in Moore Budget; Users of Services on Path to Pay Full Costs

April 16, 2015

News Analysis

Cecil County’s landfill operations have been racking up expenses faster than fees paid by trash dumpers, despite rate increases last year and previous efforts by County Executive Tari Moore to make trash services pay for themselves. In her new budget, Moore proposes more fee boosts to make landfill operations begin to stand on their own fiscal feet.

If adopted by the County Council, Moore’s proposals could make the landfill operations close to paying for themselves in the next budget year. And that could be one of the most fiscally-responsible moves Moore has made as county executive.

In presenting her new budget recently, Moore said her goal was to make the landfill operations self-sustaining in the next budget year—instead of being a drain on county general funds.

The county owns and operates a central landfill and two trash transfer stations at which people can drop off their garbage, which is then transferred by truck to the main landfill. The transfer stations, at Woodlawn and at Stemmer’s Run in Earleville, had their hours and days of operation cut back two years ago as a cost-cutting move.

Landfill costs are covered by a so-called “enterprise fund,” meaning that fees paid by users of the services are supposed to pay the full cost of providing the services—not general taxpayers. People who bring their own trash to a county facility pay a fee directly to the county each time they dump. Commercial trash haulers pay “tipping” fees based on the tons of trash they deposit—and the haulers then pass on their costs to customers in the fees paid for curbside pickup of their garbage.

But the county’s landfill operations have cost more than the revenues they generate for many years, with the result that general funds have been tapped to plug the budget hole in the landfill budget—to the tune of $4.9 million in the current budget year, according to documents submitted to the County Council in January. (For Fiscal 2013, the advance from the ‘general fund’ to the landfill fund was $5.9 million.) The landfill fund has in effect signed an IOU, promising that someday the money will be paid back to the general fund supported by all county taxpayers.

Bringing the costs versus revenues into balance would require a mix of lower costs and/or higher fees paid by users. And, to her credit, Moore has been trying to bring the costs and fees into balance since shortly after she took office as County Executive.

But raising fees is a politically unpopular step, especially for something as basic to citizens’ pockets and quality-of-life as garbage. The old County Commissioners board resisted substantial increases for many years and the County Council sworn in under the shift to Charter government in late 2012 also kicked the fully-loaded trash can down the road, but began to make some phased-in changes.

Fees were boosted in the current and previous budget year, but still not enough to plug the ongoing budget holes. In her new Fiscal 2016 budget, which is currently under review by the County Council, Moore wants to increase fees by 8.7 percent for “tipping” fees paid by commercial trash haulers and deposits of commercial and construction debris. For commercial haulers, the fees would rise from $69 per ton to $75.

[UPDATE: Septic pumping businesses—who pass on their dump fees to rural homeowners— would not face an increase. County officials clarified that those haulers bring material to the landfill but it is eventually piped to the Seneca Point sewage treatment plant, and as such fees paid are accounted for under a separate wastewater ‘enterprise’ fund. Their fees will remain at $11 a a ton.]

For citizens who bring their own trash and also recycle, fees per visit would rise from $6 per load to $7. And if residents did not pull recylables out of their general trash, the fees would rise from $12 to $14 per visit, according to a chart presented by the Moore administration to the County Council.

For people who only want to recycle, without dropping off any household trash, fees would double—from $1 to $2 per visit.

There would still be no charge for residents who drop off a Christmas tree after the holidays, or seek to be environmentally responsible by recycling batteries, electronics and latex paint.

On the expense side, the proposed budget would cut net landfill costs by 1.3 percent.

Scott Flanigan, the county’s Director of Public Works who oversees the landfill operations, has for years presented detailed, Power-Point laden charts to bolster the case for making landfill operations pay for themselves. Until recently, his pleas have been ignored or only minimally comprehended by county political leaders. But on his watch, the county has taken significant steps to extend the useful life of the landfill—by launching an award-winning single-stream recycling program and upgrading a fourth “cell” on the main landfill site, at a cost of $12 million.

Those steps, Flanigan told the County Council this week, will extend the useful life of the central landfill by “40 to 100 years.” And he noted that the Cecil County landfill operation has been cited by state environmental agencies as “one of the best landfills in the state of Maryland.”

(Indeed, the largest and wealthiest county in the state, Montgomery County, still does not have “single stream” recycling and residents have to separate out various items on their own. And many things that can be recycled in Cecil County just end up in general landfill trash in Montgomery County.)

“We are the envy of many other jurisdictions,” Flanigan said. “It really doesn’t get any better than that.”

Several County Council members commended Flanigan and his department for their efforts, since it could be very costly, as well as virtually impossible to find another main landfill location—due to environmental and community concerns— instead of finding ways to extend the life of the existing landfill.

“Thank you,” said County Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1).

Flanigan said that there have been some misconceptions about how much the under-funded landfill fund has tapped general county funds. He said that part of the landfill’s state-mandated accounting is setting aside money for the eventual closing of a landfill, and mandated environmental monitoring of a dumpsite for decades after it closes to new deposits. So some of the landfill costs are not actual annual operating costs, but reflect money that must be set aside for future environmental costs.

And as a result of somewhat increased fees in the current budget year, the liability of the landfill’s enterprise fund has been slightly reduced, from a total “advance” of $5.9 million from the general fund to $4.1 million, Flanigan said—meaning that the landfill fund had been able to pay back some of its owed money to the county’s general funds.

Part of the problems in the landfill fund’s fiscal status have been “a perfect storm of a number of factors,” Flanigan said—including the economic downturn, lower trash volume at the landfill, environmental mandates and their costs, and past policies of giving county agencies, such as the county schools, free dumping. Now the schools will have to pay their fair share for dumping waste they generate at the county landfill as of July, 2015, under Moore’s proposed budget.

Overall, the county’s landfill operations are efficiently managed, with state-of-the-art recycling and on-site technology—with thanks due to Flanigan and his department.

Moore also deserves credit for taking steps—despite their political unpopularity with many local residents—to make the landfill operations pay their own way. Now it is up to the County Council to bite the bullet and accept the inevitable need to make the landfill operation pay for itself.

But there is still room to massage the proposed fee schedules—including rewarding, not penalizing—residents who make the extra effort to recycle elements of their trash.

And people who do not dump any trash, but only bring materials for recycling, should get extra consideration from an environmental and policy perspective. Better that trash ends up in recycling bins, than tossed by the side of the road.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Responses to Trash Talk: Cecil County Landfill Fees Rise in Moore Budget; Users of Services on Path to Pay Full Costs

  1. Tracey Sampson on April 16, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    if you want services,you have to pay. Taxes are what we pay to live in a civilized society.

  2. Harold McCanick on April 17, 2015 at 6:21 am

    If the county executive had applied this principal and been this diligent with all the county departments we would all be getting a major tax cut instead of her irresponsible tax increase.

  3. Mike R on April 17, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Why does the county have to be in the trash business? Privatize it and I can bet you it would be less costly to operate. Government run agencies are always over priced because of higher paid employees, benefits, and so forth. Cut size of government.

  4. Joe C on April 17, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Disappointed that little was said about the shell game that is being played to move funds from the landfill account to the waste water account so that certain persons can get free sewer without paying the bond like the other five sewer districts in the county.

    • Jeannette Houle on April 18, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      Shell Game, really??? Please enlighten us since I missed that. I can probably guess, but would rather not.

      • Joe C on April 22, 2015 at 8:11 pm

        The wastewater fund charges the landfill for leachate which goes to the sewer plant and that gives more money for Tari to give free sewer service to her friends.

        • RDF 001 on April 23, 2015 at 8:31 am

          Name the “friends” or desist. You are as bad as Broomell.

          • Bob Willick on April 25, 2015 at 6:00 am

            Does anyone see the irony of someone demanding names while they post anomalously? RDF 001 – Stop being a hypocrite or desist.

          • Jackie on April 26, 2015 at 10:15 am

            No, there is no irony in asking for names when someone is putting out accusations. When making a public accusation, it is incumbent upon the accuser to give specifics and provide facts. If the accuser is unable to do that, then he/she can’t be considered to be a credible source. I’m sure if this is actually occurring, I’m not the only one who wants to know who is getting these benefits.

            If facts can’t be provided, then I’ll view this accusation as politics as usual and ignore it. By the way, anomalously means abnormally. Did you mean anonymously?

  5. scott on April 22, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Want to cut costs at the land fill? Stop advertising on billboards, stop advertising in newspapers, these are all free as public anouncements. Is there another landfill in the county that we are competing against? stop spending so much $ on crazy drivers license readers and cameras and recording devises. It’s a dump –not Fort Knox!

    Typical total overkill government spending under Flanigan. Award winning dump, that’s what Cecil County has to be proud of? What about the MDE judgment against the landfill for polluting a stream that runs off the priperty? Great job!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Fine Maryland Wines
Proudly made in Cecil County