February 2011 - Sierra Scoop Column

Over the past few months, there have been many questions concerning the health of Mono County’s “Solid Waste Enterprise Fund” (SWEF), aka “our garbage”.

This program was created due to State mandated regulations. In the 90’s, the County decided it was in the public’s best interest to keep control of our landfill (Benton Crossing) while contracting out operations of the transfer stations (was this open to bidding?) at a cost of ~$50,000/month with Mammoth Disposal, that’s $600,000/year (recently reduced to ~$37,500/month).

The County also needed to raise funds for operations, equipment and closures so it borrowed $5.25 million dollars (was there any voter input or approval?).

Over the past 5 years, trash has decreased by 55 percent and the SWEF now sees a huge operating loss. In fact, during Augusts’ budget process, the County loaned the SWEF ~$1.2 million to stay operating. The latest figures show that the SWEF is losing ~$80,000/month.

A recent study by HDR Engineering , recommends closing the landfill on Sundays, allowing bidding on the transfer stations this year, raising fees from $50/ton to $100/ton, and looking at hauling waste out of the county (which is what D&S currently does for north county).

Mammoth produces ~75% of waste in the county while all other areas produce the remaining 25%. Currently two franchisees operate within the County - Mammoth Disposal (they are allowed to operate in both the County and exclusively in the Town of Mammoth) and D&S (who is only allowed to operate in the County, not Mammoth).

After dipping into the County’s reserve funds to balance the budget and the ~$1.2 million loan, the County’s reserves are just over $2 million. Can we really afford to use more of the reserves here?

Some questions to be answered are – (1) How did a plan that seemed to work in the early years go so wrong? (2) How will the increase in fees affect the public? (3) How much more reserve money is the County going to have to use to keep the SWEF operating? And should it? (4) What can be done to solve the short-term crisis and long term problems? (6) Should the transfer stations contract be put out to bid to encourage competition and lower the cost to the County?

No matter what happens, any increase in fees will affect your garbage bill, whether you use a service such as Mammoth Disposal and D&S or if you take your own garbage to a transfer station!

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