Something’s rotten at the landfill

Attending Monday’s meeting of Elkins City Council’s Sanitation/Landfill Committee meeting was kind of like watching an old Western movie.

You know that scene in every Western where the settlers decide to dig in and fight the evil force bearing down on the town? That’s what Mayor Van Broughton and council members were doing, but the evil force threatening the future of Elkins wasn’t a dastardly villain, or a gang of bush whackers.

It was the Elkins-Randolph County Landfill – and the financial quicksand it has been dragging the city into for decades.

Facing annual operating costs of $333,700 at the landfill – which has been closed since September 2011 -along with the landfill’s $262,274 in outstanding debt, the committee voted Monday to recommend that City Council approve an ordinance they hope will ease the financial strain.

Unfortunately, the ordinance puts the burden on the city’s sanitation customers. Residential customers will pay a total of $10.34 per month – and commercial customers $50.88 per month -in “landfill obligation” charges if the ordinance is approved.

Committee Chairman Carman Metheny said he and the other council members hate the idea of billing customers for new charges without providing new or expanded services, but stressed that the city had run out of options.

As if that wasn’t enough landfill-related bad news, City Council has also been informed by the state Public Service Commission that Elkins must begin putting money in escrow as funding to officially close the landfill.

Elkins Operations Manager Bob Pingley and City Treasurer Lisa Daniels-Smith crunched the numbers and came up with a way to reclassify about $80,000 a year from sanitation revenue and put it into escrow. They hope this will satisfy the PSC without adding another surcharge to customers.

Still, the PSC told the city the official closure process will cost around $6 million. It would take quite a few decades of putting $80,000 in escrow annually to get to $6 million.

This is where the landfill really starts to seem like that black cloud threatening the town.

Until the city can officially close the landfill – which brings in no revenue – Elkins will have to continue to pay employees at the site and to have leachate transported regularly. Officials face the prospect of paying at least $330,700 in operating costs year after year after year.

“So the landfill stays in limbo forever, because we’ll never have enough money to close it in the manner they require,” Metheny said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Elkins officials vented anger about state regulations Monday, but they also offered plenty of criticism about previous councils and administrations who allowed the landfill to operate in the red since the 1980s.

“I’m shocked that officials let this go so long,” Councilman Lonnie Randall said.

In the end, the officials decided to bite the bullet and face up to the landfill’s dizzying financial obligations.

“This can has been kicked as far down the road as it possibly can be,” Pingley said. “Now we’re the ones who have to deal with it.”

City Council will consider the first reading of the proposed ordinance at Monday’s meeting, where council members expect to hear some criticism from the public.

It’s High Noon in Elkins. The town leaders have made a stand. Will the residents stand behind them?