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There is a certain Catch-22 element in the recently completed decision-making process on a contract renewal for the operation of the county landfill.
From the inception of the current landfill on County Road 450S, members of the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management Board have been committed to as long a lifespan for the facility as possible. The length of that time is dictated by the amount of material that goes into it. The more material, the shorter the span.
Preserving landfill capacity is in part a matter of expense. New landfills are pretty expensive propositions, and the cost is in much more than money.
Several county officials in particular should have long enough memories to recall the emotional toll on participants in the selection process for this latest site when its predecessor at Petersville was reaching its capacity. The ensuing controversy over potential sites became a major political issue, propelling a number of candidates into or out of office simply because of the positions they staked out in the matter.
During an extended debate on the question of renewing or extending a contract with Rumpke Indiana LLC, operator of the facility since 1998, Kristen Brown, mayor of Columbus and a member of the Solid Waste Management Board, pointed out the conflicting situation in which the board finds itself.
“The mission is to be focused on reducing what goes in to that landfill, but at the same time we are a landfill operator, and a landfill operator wants to maximize the amount of trash, the amount of revenue going into the landfill,” she said recently. “The blanket statement that we are dependent on all that trash volume to break even is not accurate. There are other levers, other factors in the equation.”
Brown specifically cited the potential of eliminating free dumping by residents and raising more money in the process. Currently a county resident can dump up to 200 pounds of trash daily at no charge, either at the landfill or at convenience stations set up around the county.
That policy of free dumping comes at a price. According to statistics from the waste district, those free loads amount to 9,000 tons of trash each year, or approximately 10 percent of the total amount the landfill receives.
Imposing fees would make a significant fiscal difference. Had those free loads been assessed with tipping fees of $27.50 a ton, the district would be $247,000 a year to the better.
But that’s only part of the equation. Such fees could serve as an inducement for people to reduce the amount of trash that is consigned to the landfill through recycling.
Brown also noted that rebidding the contract would open an opportunity for competition that could lower costs. For example, the single largest expense in the waste district operations is the contract with Rumpke, estimated at $1.5 million next year. On average over the past four years, the county has paid Rumpke $463,308 more to operate the landfill than it receives from the company in revenue.
Five other members of the district board disagreed with Brown’s position and voted to extend the contract with Rumpke another three years. Only Brown and County Council member Chris Ogle voted against the extension.
Time will tell exactly how much that decision will cost the district and the people of Bartholomew County. As noted earlier, the cost could be in more than dollars and cents.
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