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DANC’s 2013 budget faces declining landfill revenue

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CANTON - Garbage is good for the Development Authority of the North Country, but its regional landfill in Rodman is losing revenue because it is collecting less trash every year.

The trash dilemma is just one of several challenges the authority copnsidered when developing its preliminary budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The budget was recommended for approval Thursday by the Finance Committee, and will be considered for adoption in March by the authority’s board of directors. Its fiscal year runs from April 1 through March 31.

Along with declining landfill revenue, income generated by interest on its funds has steeply dropped — sinking from $4.2 million in 2008 to $1.4 million in 2012. That figure is predicted to decrease to $902,951 in 2013 and $575,486 in 2014.

It’s a financial scenario that has compelled the authority to increase service fees it charges the public. Effective Jan. 1, tipping fees charged to haulers that dump trash at the landfill were increased $5-per-ton to make up for a consistent decline in tonnage of trash at the landfill. Municipalities and trash haulers with contracts at the landfill saw fees jump from S39 to $44, while fees for walk-in customers increased from $41 to $46.

James W. Wright, the authority’s CEO, said revenue generated by interest on reserve funds used to provide ample funding to offset losses in revenue at the landfill. But that’s no longer the case.

Today’s “interest rates are not producing increases in revenue,” he said. “So we’ve had to offset that with more fees for services.”

From 2007 to 2013, trash collected annually at the landfill has decreased by 115,062 tons, from 354,989 to 239,927 tons in 2012. Richard R. LeClerc, solid waste division manager, attributed the decline to increased recycling efforts made in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. More recycling means less trash.

“An increase in waste diversion rates occur when more people recycle products,” he said. “There has been increased awareness and encouragement for recycling from the state, and as a region we’re anticipating trash collected at the landfill will continue to decline.”

And if the trend continues, he said, the authority will likely be compelled to request another tipping fee increase in the coming years. The landfill will soon have plenty of space to store more trash, though, as an $8.3 million expansion project to be finished this spring will add two more storage cells, which will take up about 19 acres at the northern end of the landfill.

The 2013-14 budget will have increases in health insurance and state pension costs. Compared to fiscal year 2012-13, total spending on fringe benefits for the authority’s employees is projected to increase 8 percent from $2,047,882 to $2,229,743. Mr. Wright said that increase is largely because of a 14.2 percent increase in health-insurance premiums, and climbing state pension costs. The authority now has 67 employees enrolled in the state pension system.

Though the authority has been challenged by dwindling revenue from the landfill, Mr. Wright described the overall fiscal health of the authority as strong. The number of contracts it has to share services with municipalities — another key revenue source — continues to grow.

“The authority has grown in size over the last three years because we’ve capitalized on efforts to share services,” he said. “The budget reflects sustained growth, and we’ve grown particularly in rendered shared services.”

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