Government and Sustainability

Public hearing Thursday on Kent trash surcharge

A few county commissioners have indicated they will vote against the proposal.

June 19, 2015
| By Pete Daly |
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A public hearing is scheduled at 8:30 a.m. Thursday on a proposed surcharge on all trash pickup in Kent County, plus creation of licensing fees to be paid by the trash hauling companies.

The proposed ordinance is aimed at raising approximately $1,450,000 a year for dealing with old closed landfills in the county that are still a source of groundwater pollution 30 years after they were closed and covered.

Some of the small trash-hauling companies have objected to the proposal, which requires them to build into their customer invoices a surcharge equivalent to 14 cents per month for residential service. They must also build in a surcharge for “institutional” customers, which include all business customers, institutions and apartment complexes with dumpsters, equivalent to $1.68 per ton of trash. The surcharge does not pertain to trash picked up for recycling.

The haulers must also become licensed by the county at a cost of $30 per vehicle per year.

Trash disposal facilities — including major commercial landfills in counties adjoining Kent — have agreed to collect the surcharge from haulers bringing in trash that originates in Kent County, and later turn that money over to the county. The disposal facilities will increase their per-ton, weight-based charge for Kent County trash by $1.68.

The proposed county ordinance states haulers “shall charge to its solid waste customers in Kent County” the surcharge collected at the disposal facilities, and “the surcharge shall be designated or described on the customer bill, invoice, contract, e-mail billing notice or sign-up website as the ‘Kent County Solid Waste Surcharge’ or ‘County Surcharge.’”

However, the next clause states the “waste hauler is not responsible for collecting surcharges that a customer has failed or refused to pay.”

But haulers will be required to tell county officials about any customers who don’t pay.

The ordinance also states haulers may later request and receive a refund of overpayments they make to the county, due to customers failing to pay the surcharge “or other circumstances.”

The haulers will be required to keep records of the number of residential and institutional customers, the amount of all surcharges collected, and the amount of all weight payments they make to the disposal facilities.

The Kent County Board of Public Works, which drafted the proposed ordinance after several years of meeting with haulers and disposal facilities, may decide to attempt to recover any surcharge not paid by a hauler’s customer.

Bob Vander Heide of Bob’s Disposal told some members of the Kent County Board of Commissioners June 9 it is “not the hauler’s job to collect tax for the county,” and he said the ordinance requirements would be “time consuming.”

A representative of Green Valley Recycling and Disposal said the ordinance may cost his business “several thousand dollars” annually to bill and collect the surcharge and maintain the records. He questioned if the county will actually be able to enforce the collection of the surcharge on haulers or customers that don’t pay it. He predicted it may drive some small waste-hauling companies out of business, unable to compete with larger haulers.

County Commissioner Ted Vonk, who is board chair of the county Department of Public Works, said the issues about unfunded costs of the old landfills — which are now county property — has been “ongoing for over a decade, possibly 20 years.” Vonk conceded there is “no perfect ordinance” to solve the problem and noted there will be opportunities every two years to “tweak” it.

“I’m not going to back off from this. I think we’re doing the right thing,” added Vonk.

Commissioner Stan Stek said some concerns remain on his part — in particular, assessing the users of trash pickup in the county rather than taking the needed money from the general fund.

“Is this the best way to do this?” questioned Stek.

He is also concerned about how complicated the proposed ordinance is.

Commissioner Jim Talen, on the other hand, said he trusts the DPW board and added he is not sure there actually would be a burden on the haulers.

Commissioner Mandy Bolter expressed concern about the surcharge ordinance, as did Commissioner Diane Jones at a prior meeting.

Commissioner Stan Ponstein announced he will vote against it because it is a “most complex” solution. He noted that years ago, Kent County took on the legacy costs of maintaining the old polluted landfills in the county under fire by state and federal environmental agencies, but he noted the county had no way to fund it into the future.

Ponstein described the surcharge ordinance as a tax “we’re afraid to levy ourselves” on all the county taxpayers.

Five commissioners have indicated they will not vote for the ordinance when it comes before the full county commission, but there are a total of 19 commissioners, and the others, for the most part, apparently have indicated support for it.

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