The Bartholomew County Landfill made just enough money last year to pay its bills and to provide some help to community programs — without taking any direct tax money, according to a report to be presented to the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District.
Jim Murray, director of the waste management district, is presenting the report Thursday as the district board begins the process of considering a new contract to operate the landfill.
Rumpke of Indiana
currently holds the contract with the county to operate the landfill, at a cost of about $1.2 million a year.
The contract expires at the end of this year and the district has the option to renew the existing contract or to seek new bids.
The annual cost of the contract depends on how many tons of trash are dumped at the landfill.
The solid waste management district will begin working to decide whether to renew the contract with Rumpke or to seek bids at its March meeting.
Last year, the landfill expenses were about $2.35 million, while its revenues were about $2.38 million, Murray said.
The landfill has about $32,000 in earnings above expenses. That money helps support education programs and other efforts such as the recycling center, the yard waste program and household hazardous waste programs.
“The landfill is paying for itself. It is not being supported by tax dollars,” Murray said. “It actually helps offset the costs for the other things we do, a little bit.”
The single biggest source of revenue for the landfill is tipping fees, the amount per ton that garbage trucks pay to dump trash at the landfill, at about $2.09 million.
The landfill charges $27.50 per ton for commercial haulers, a price that hasn’t increased since the landfill opened in 1999.
Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown, a member of the district’s board, is pressing for the county to open up the contract to bidders and to consider raising the fees paid to dump trash at the landfill.
She believes a fee increase could generate enough money to pay for a countywide recycling program.
“I am not making any decisions, or rendering any opinions, but I think these are the conversations we need to be having,” Brown said.
The city has two seats on the seven-member board of the solid waste management district and is the second-largest user of the landfill with 15,385 tons of trash in 2011, the most recent year available.
The largest single user is Rumpke, which dumped 32,582 tons of trash in 2011.
The county pays Rumpke to operate the landfill, and then Rumpke pays the landfill for the trash it dumps there.
Cost savings could be generated with curbside recycling, as the district might be able to close its recycling drop-off locations and public recycling center, Brown said. She also questioned why the county does not charge residents for the first 200 pounds of trash they dump a day.
Brown said she sees an inherent conflict of interest between the district’s mission and its revenue stream.
The state’s solid waste management districts are tasked with reducing the amount of trash put into landfills, she said.
But because Bartholomew County owns its landfill and the contract is managed by the solid waste management district, there is an incentive to keep the levels of trash high because it generates revenue, Brown said.
Murray said he is concerned that if the level of trash being dumped drops too low, it could endanger the district’s ability to balance its budget. In addition to staff costs and other bills, the landfill has to set aside money to pay for future expenses.
“I would hate to see us artificially drive away customers,” Murray said.
“I would hate to see us going back to a situation where taxpayer dollars are used to support the landfill.”
In his report, Murray said there is an annualized cost of $376,190 a year for future expenses related to the landfill, including $8 million for construction of more trash cells and $8.1 million for the eventual closing of the landfill.
When constructed, the landfill was projected to last until 2082, based on an assumption that 72,000 to 75,000 tons would be deposited annually.
In 2011, a higher amount — 83,715 tons of trash — was dumped at the landfill. Murray said that number fluctuates annually depending on years with large amounts of storm damage or higher levels of construction in the county.
By law, all of the trash dumped at the Bartholomew County Landfill comes from the county.