Elkins seeking landfill debt solution

Elkins City Council’s Sanitation/Landfill Committee voted Monday to recommend a plan that would charge both residential and commercial customers each month to help pay off the Elkins-Randolph County Landfill’s debts and operating costs.

The motion to recommend that City Council approve the plan passed 2 to 1, with Committee Chairman Carman Metheny and Councilman Jim Bibey voting in favor, and Councilman Lonnie Randall voting against the motion.

“I’m not happy about having to do this,” Metheny said during Monday’s committee meeting. “But right now, I don’t see an alternative.”

The plan would cost each residential customer $5.69 per month, and each commercial customer $28.49 per month, to raise funds to cover the landfill’s $333,700 in annual operating costs. The landfill has been closed since September 2011.

In addition, each residential customer would be charged $4.64 per month, and each commercial customer $22.39 per month, to help pay off the landfill’s $262,274 in outstanding debt. At that rate, the debt should be paid off within two years, at which time the customer charges will be reconsidered, officials said.

These new charges, totaling $10.34 per residential customer and $50.88 per commercial customer, would be billed monthly as “landfill obligation” charges, officials said.

Added to the current sanitation rates, residential customers would pay a total of $29.87 in sanitation and landfill obligation charges each month, while commercial customers would pay $82.44 each month.

Committee members said they knew customers would not be pleased by the plan.

“Your businesses are going to raise Cain,” Randall said. “Your residents are going to raise Cain.”

“Without raising the rates, there’s no way we can pay everything,” Metheny said.

In April, Metheny suggested charging a monthly fee between $2 and $3 to the city’s sanitation customers to pay off the landfill debt in two years.

Since then, Elkins Operations Manager Bob Pingley and City Treasurer Lisa Daniels-Smith have worked on the issue, and came to the conclusion that, because the closed landfill has no revenue coming in, the “landfill obligation” charges were necessary.

In addition, the state Public Service Commission has informed city officials that Elkins must begin putting money in escrow as funding to officially close the landfill, an expensive process. To try to satisfy that requirement, Pingley and Daniels-Smith suggested reclassifying some of the revenue coming in through sanitation payments.

The idea is to take “about $80,000 from the current sanitation revenue, and reclassify it as ‘landfill obligation,’ and it will go into the landfill escrow for closure,” Daniels-Smith said.

By doing this, the city can avoid creating a surcharge for customers to raise funds to put in escrow, she said. The landfill closure escrow aspect of the plan must be approved by the PSC, officials said.

City Council will consider a first reading of a proposed ordinance to create the “landfill obligations” charges for customers at its next meeting, set for Monday at 7 p.m. at Elkins City Hall.

The city will also have to publish and advertise the proposed ordinance before the second reading, which will be preceded by a public hearing in which residents can speak about the proposal.