BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greeneville-Greene County Regional Solid Waste Planning Board announced on Thursday that there is no time left for continued delays in taking action to reduce an annual $500,000 deficit in the landfill's budget.
Although the board has been aware of the situation for quite some time, the members have been unable to reach a consensus to be enacted by both Greeneville and Greene County.
On Thursday, Transfer Station/Landfill Manager Dennis "Zip" Wright presented the board with his proposed 2012-2013 budget, which included $1,989,000 in expenditures and $1,508,000 in revenues.
Wright said that such deficits are the result of the landfill no longer receiving appropriations from Greeneville or the county in the past few years, resulting in the need to draw from the budget's fund balance.
The manager said that he and his employees have worked hard to reduce expenses as much as possible, but that it has been difficult.
Darrell Bryan, Greeneville alderman and chair of the town's Budget and Finance Committee, noted that the town is the fiscal agent for the landfill.
"[The budget committee] will not make a recommendation that's a half million dollars in the hole again," Bryan said.
3 OPTIONS PUT FORTH
He offered three options for addressing the issue: raising tipping fees, getting new management, or passing the operation completely to the county.
"If anything else major comes up, you're going to have zero money in your fund balance at this point," he cautioned.
Bryan estimated that the fund contains about $3 million, plus an additional $1 million that has been set aside for planned capital improvements.
"Something has to be done," he concluded.
City Administrator Todd Smith agreed that a solution needs to come this year, suggesting that among the most immediate options would be to raise tipping fees to at least cover the cost of operations.
FUN 'DANGEROUSLY LOW'
Board Chairman Sarah Webster explained that when Greeneville and the county first started tipping fees, officials were not clear on the real extent of the landfill's expenses and set the fees "unrealistically low."
Since that time, she said the fees have never been adequately increased to really cover the costs. Now, she added, the fund is "dangerously low."
In 2010, the Municipal Technical Assistance Service (MTAS) recommended increasing fees slowly over the next few years to $44.10 per ton for class I.
Wright, however, said that the MTAS figures used today would likely still leave the budget with a deficit of more than $100,000.
County Mayor Alan Broyles suggested that the committee first consider alternative management before exploring an increase in tipping fees.
He asked that the committee hear from representatives of TIDI Waste, which he said has expressed an interest in picking up garbage for Greeneville and Greene County.
The committee expressed interest in studying waste-to-energy programs as a long-term possibility to addressing the issue.
Public Works Director Brad Peters also suggested emphasizing recycling in the school systems and posting educational signs as other long-term solutions.
Meanwhile, however, they agreed to hold another meeting as soon as TIDI Waste can prepare a proposal on the costs to take over the operation of hauling the garbage.
"I'm sorry we're at a place where something needs to be done yesterday," Webster said, noting that they have been aware of the issue for a while but are just now seeming to wake up and panic."
Bryan suggested that spending more time scrutinizing the town's budgets has been a part of prompting such action, which led to the board asking to see the 2011-2012 actual budget at the next meeting.
BIDS ON TRACK LOADER
Meanwhile, the board voted to take solid waste expert Lewis Bumpus' advice on recent bids received on a track loader.
Neither of two bids met all the specifications set by Bumpus, Wright noted, saying that he would prefer to hear his recommendation before the board voted.
Nortrax submitted a bid for $223,281, while Staller's Machinery submitted a bid for $238,663, the manager said.
Peters made a motion for the board to take Bumpus' recommendation, which passed unanimously.
In other business, Christopher L. Craig, director of environmental programs for the First Tennessee Development District (FTDD), reported that the state Solid Waste Control Board is going through the process of changing rules related to waste reduction methods, reporting, and landfill bans.
He agreed to keep the board updated as more information on the potential changes becomes available.