Landfill board members debate merits of mill levy

by Barbara Anne Greene

The possibility of a mill levy was raised at the March meeting of the Big Horn County Solid Waste Board.

“As we move forward with these transfer stations these towns are going to change the way they do garbage,” said Bob Graham, the newest member of the landfill board. “They are going to limit what you can throw in the garbage and what you have to recycle.”

As they do this, he said, the fees are going to go down because of less tonnage.

“We are back to where we are having to raise rates. I’m glad there are two county commissioners here because I think we need to work at trying to find some kind of an answer to a district and try to pass a mill levy because these towns are not going to be able to sustain those rate increases forever.”

Graham said he wasn’t quite sure what type of levy or fees were needed based on the current revenues. “I think the towns, if they got educated, would be receptive to a mill levy simply because the towns would be able to cut their rates back based on the fact they wouldn’t have to pay for a tag fee.”

Graham said he hopes to get some numbers from the county so that when both transfer stations are done, the towns will have to scrutinize what they are bringing out there. Things like leaves and grass will not be accepted.

Ron McArthur, a member of the landfill board, said that he would not be in favor of this. “We keep raising fees, taxes, everything … people are getting upset. I won’t vote for anything that raises cost. I’m getting nickel and dimed to death.”

“You want to raise some more. I don’t think people are going to want to do it. I’m tired of the government and entities taking money.”

Graham said Worland has a landfill district based on the school district. “Everybody within that district can dump for free based on a mill levy to their taxes.”

Gary Grant, the landfill manager, said that a mill levy has been voted down twice. Commissioner Jerry Ewen added that there are tax districts in place but that a mill levy would have to go in front of the voters.

“I can tell you from experience being on town council, when you start going to these entities for grants and loans the first thing they look at is your ability to pay back,” said Graham. “When they put in the water treatment plant in Cody they based it on sales of their product. When the towns got their first bill they about had a coronary. So everyone started conserving so then they weren’t selling enough water to pay the bills.”

According to Graham, this is when the town of Cody had to start doing something different. “That is what I am afraid is going to happen to this board. We are going to keep raising our rates based on people conserving and recycling; pretty soon we are going to be at $110 a ton.”

Ewen told the board there is another factor that needs to be considered. “We’ve had some discussion with the WEPA and also with our four-county association. If a regional landfill can be promoted, the tipping fees are going to go down.” The example Ewen gave was the Yellowstone County Landfill in Montana. “They have economy of scale there and plus they sell the natural gas from the methane from their pits.”

Graham asked where a regional landfill would be located. Ewen said Cody already has lined pits. “If we are taking everything out of our transfer stations to Cody, that is an additional cost.”

Carl Olson said it may be an additional cost to haul it to Cody but then BHC is not paying to bury it. “So we’ve lost that cost. We are actually ahead. It costs a lot more to cover than it does to haul.”

“I think it is a concern that the board should be thinking about,” said Graham. “We only have the opportunity to present a mill levy every two years during the general election.” This would mean in the years 2016, 2018, etc.

After a lively discussion among the board, Graham gave one more example. “My wife and I pay $26 a month for garbage. We have one little sack of garbage every two days. Family across the alley has six kids. They pay the same amount. I’ve tried to get the Town of Greybull to understand that by putting out rollouts it is more fair to your customers. The little old lady that has one rollout pays $5. The family of six has three rollouts pays for three instead of one. “

McArthur countered, “The guy that owns 3,000 acres will pay a lot more in the mill than the guy that has one half block but the guy with the 3,000 acres probably doesn’t have very much garbage because he buries his own. How is that fair?”

Graham told McArthur he had a point, but what about the land owners on Emblem Bench who back BLM land. “They don’t even bury it on their own land. They bury it on BLM land. So what do you do about that?”

“I don’t know,” said McArthur, before asking for a motion to adjourn.