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At their May 14 meeting, City Council members approved a proposal for an environmental monitoring study at the waste transfer station at 1711 Church St.
Council also decided to create a dedicated fund sequestered for the purpose of addressing issues caused by the operations of the waste transfer station, which is in a residential area.
The move, in the making since early 2016, came amidst confusion and controversy surrounding the disposition of fees collected, but never spend, since roughly 2011.
The fees collected, $1,263,247.90, will be added to the new Host Fee, a $0.75 per ton quarterly fee which began this year. According to City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, the City collected $24,675 in the first quarter predicting about $100,000 annually until the fee increases to $0.80 per ton in 2022.
The creation and dedicated use of the fund came at the suggestion of Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, speaking at the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, which preceded the Council meeting. But the move has been in the works since early 2016 when the City settled a lawsuit filed by Advanced Disposal Services (formerly Veolia) challenging the imposition of a “tipping tax” levied by the City. While the litigation was ongoing, the City continued to collect the then-$2.00 per ton tipping tax, but kept the money sequestered pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
A May 9, 2018 memo from Mr. Bobkiewicz, Public Works Agency Director Dave Stoneback, and Capital Planning Bureau Chief Lara Biggs (the “Memo”) seemed to create considerable confusion as to the fate of the $1.26 million since Council approved the settlement in February 2016. The Memo accompanied an agenda item termed “Disposition of Waste Transfer Tipping Fees/Station Project Funding,” and recommended that Council use General Obligation bond funds for both the environmental study and the equipment necessary to conduct it.
Using borrowed bond money for the study while $1.26 million in dedicated funds should have been available created some concern among Council members. The funds were “promised to address environmental issues” in and around the station, said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward.
Yet according to the Memo, “the $1,263,248 collected in transfer fees since 2011 was deposited into the General Fund. At the May 23, 2016, Council meeting, staff presented a recommendation to allocate $500,000 of the transfer fees to the City General Fund Reserve and $763,248 to the City’s Capital Project Fund proceeds. This item was held at the Council meeting.”
“These are impact fees,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, at the time, “so all along it was my expectation that they would be used in the impacted area… I don’t want to deviate from that.” The matter was held in May 2016, pending input from the community, including the Environment Board’s Environmental Justice subcommittee.
According to the Memo, though, “Since this recommendation was held at Council, the FY2017 budget did not include the proposed transfer to the Capital Project Fund and funds remained in the General Fund and were therefore included in the General Fund’s fund balance for the 2016 audit. During discussion of the close of the FY2017 budget staff indicated that the transfer fee funds would remain in the general fund, but proposed that $200,000 of the funds would be transferred to the Capital Fund and shown as an expense to the General Fund. Due to other revenue sources being under estimates, this transfer was not made.”
The Memo went on to discuss Robert Crown and library improvements, saying that on Feb. 19, “staff indicated that the City would need to reduce the GO Bond issue to $9M for all projects other than” Robert Crown and the library. The Memo then recommended “that the funding for the environmental monitoring study and equipment be funded by 2018 GO bonds.”
“There was an expectation [the $1.26 million] would be available” for projects such as the proposed environmental monitoring, said Ald. Braithwaite. He said he found it “shocking and a little embarrassing we have to bond out” $200,000 for the monitoring project, saying doing so made it appear “the money is not there. … I feel a little blindsided by this.
“I can’t move forward with bonding… when my understanding was the $200,000 was available,” he concluded.
Ald. Rue Simmons said it was her “understanding that these funds were going to be set aside” for use in the impact area.
“Time passed. The funds were not allocated,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz. “If you feel it is not appropriate to bond” the environmental monitoring project, “we can use the General Fund” and amend the budget. “The bottom line: the money [$1.26 million] was received, it is in our account. As the host fee comes in,” it goes into a separate fund within the Solid Waste enterprise fund. But the $1.26 million was always in the General Fund, he said.
Ald. Simmons then made her motion, to “move $1.263 million into a dedicated fund for the impacted areas” near the waste transfer station. Her motion included making the $192,500 expenditure for the environmental monitoring project, making the transfer actually about $1.07 million.
Ald. Wilson raised a different concern. “We have something finite on the agenda. I have some concerns going beyond what’s on the agenda. If we want to sequester [the $1.26 million], that’s a separate issue” and not on the agenda.
The agenda item was for “conversation and clarification about funds collected from the waste transfer station,” said Ald. Braithwaite, referring the agenda title “Disposition of Waste Transfer Tipping Fees,” and he said he sought to clear up “confusion [over] how these funds were going to be separated” from the General Fund. “If you are looking to do something different from that, I’d like you to clearly state it.”
The decision to create “a separate fund needs to be on the agenda,” said Ald. Wilson. “Disposition” of the funds is not enough.
“I’m confused as to why we are discussing that now,” said Ald. Simmons. The Administration and Public Works Committee, when addressing the agenda item, voted to shift the tipping funds into a dedicated fund already existing within the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund. As such, the Administration and Public Works Committee directly addressed the “Disposition of the Waste Transfer Tipping Fee” item on the agenda, she said.
“We agreed to spend $192,000 and put the remaining funds onto an identified account,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “I can’t see anyone on this Council spending the money any other way” than in the affected area.
Ald. Wilson then suggested the matter be split into two votes – one on the environmental monitoring, and the second on the disposition of the tipping fees. “Let’s just split it into two and vote on it.”
Two votes were held, and each passed 8-0 – one, to pay for environmental monitoring out of the General Fund, the other to transfer about $1.07 million from the General Fund into the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund created to receive the host fees as they are collected.
A list of projects discussed by the community around the transfer station since at least 2016 now has a dedicated funding source.