Solid waste report states three options for county

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners were not impressed by a $100,000 solid waste study which in many ways duplicated the efforts of the county's Solid Waste Advisory Group three years ago, according to several members of the council.

"There is certainly more detail than we had in our report, but there are similarities," said Don West, chair of the work group. "Obviously [the commissioners] were underwhelmed with it, but the taxpayers can judge if they got their money's worth."


Details of KCI's study

Scott Moser, deputy director of the county's Department of Public Works, said the county has three options when considering the future of solid waste disposal: Fill Northern Resource Recovery Park, which only has between 13-20 years of life left, continue to haul its waste to other jurisdictions, or privatize the industry.

KCI Technologies, a private engineering firm that was contracted to conduct the study, came up with two scenarios which they presented to the Board of Commissioners Thursday. Scenario 1 would halt all waste hauling to surrounding jurisdictions, and instead the county would fill the recovery park.

The county hauls about 95 percent of its solid waste to a landfill in Pennsylvania. While the county does make a little more than $5 for every ton hauled, this revenue combined with tipping fees collected at Northern Resource Recovery Park and Hoods Mills Landfill are not enough to offset the expenditures associated with operating the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund.

This imbalance has forced Carroll government to infuse the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund with $2.5 million in funding every year for the past several years to keep it solvent.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said "option one isn't even an option."

"Even if we shipped [our waste] to the moon, we need to have a contingency plan; we always need to keep the remaining capacity of our landfills for emergencies," Rothschild said.

This scenario would result in an estimated $18.8 million budget deficit in the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund over the next 20 years.

Scenario 2, which KCI recommended the commissioners pursue, is simply a continuation of the county's current practice of hauling its waste to surrounding jurisdictions, and would result in an expected $57 million budget deficit over the same period of time.

A recent executive order that went into effect in January prevents future permits for landfill capacity in Maryland. It is possible that no additional landfill capacity may be available in the near future, so scenario 1 is not realistic, said Thomas Sprehe, senior vice president of KCI.

"Emphatically, the upshot of the report is a cautious wait and see," Sprehe said,

A third option, which KCI did not discuss in detail, would be to allow a private company to take control of operating the recovery park and all of the county's solid waste disposal and recycling. West said several private businesses have made proposals to the county, but most people in county government who have looked at the proposals do not see it as a panacea for the problem.

"The enterprise fund has operated in the red for a reason," he said. "[The county] has had to keep putting money into it, and a business is in business for one reason and that's to make money, not to lose money."

Rothschild disagreed with West, and said if a private company took control of the industry, the county would have a set revenue stream and it would eliminate potentially millions the county would have to pay to keep the enterprise fund solvent in the future.


Strategies to offset budget deficit

KCI recommended several strategies to reduce — if not eliminate — the deficit that would be incurred if the county moves forward with scenario 2.

They proposed a system benefit charge that every household in Carroll would have to pay. Though KCI is not referring to it as a tax, it would function and be collected in a similar manner, Rothschild said. If implemented, KCI recommended an annual amount per household of $35-$40.

"We understand the political implications; some people see this as a tax but it's not," Sprehe said. "It can be designed in a number of different ways."

KCI also recommended creating collection districts. Carroll licenses many different hauling companies, many of which have overlapping service areas. The creation of districts would help eliminate this overlap, and reduce the cost to companies due to the consumption of less fuel, thus possibly reducing costs to residents.

Another option to eliminate the expected budget deficit would be to implement a Pay as You Throw program, which would charge households individually based on the volume of waste, rather than one flat rate for everyone. These programs typically result in a 20 percent reduction in waste, according to the study, and would reduce the cost for out-of-state waste transfer by about $1 million annually by reducing the amount of waste to be shipped.

Sprehe also said the county should consider discontinuing the distribution of waste disposal coupons, which in effect cost the county $290,000 in uncollected fees in Fiscal Year 2014, or 11 percent of the deficit that year.

Viability of alternative technologies

Another aspect of the study was to determine the suitability and affordability of alternative waste disposal technologies, such as plasma gasification and refuse-derived fuel.

According to the study: "none was seen as significantly well-proven and economically advantageous to warrant a recommendation to the County for further investigation at this time."

Sprehe said there are a number of technologies, each at a given cost and scale, and these are coming down as research continues. However, to take advantage of these in the present, a jurisdiction must produce a significant of amount of waste more than what Carroll currently produces, he said. Another necessary component of successfully utilizing energy-producing technologies is ensuring there is market for that fuel in the area, Sprehe said.

"If you don't have all of these elements, those technologies don't make economic sense," he said.

Rothschild said that while a wait and see attitude is sometimes the best course of action, his own research has shown that there are viable alternative technologies that could be adapted for the county.

Commissioners disappointed with results of study

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said the four possibilities concerning the future of solid waste, as well as the measures they could take to reduce the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund deficit, were all known to the commissioners before the study.

"We had a pretty good understanding on this before we hired you," Howard said. "I don't think you are telling us anything at all. To fill or not to fill seems more of a Shakespearean deal."

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, echoed Howard's sentiments.


"We've spent thousands for you to tell us to sit here and continue to wait?" Wantz said. "I'm confused."

Sprehe said part of the scope of the study was to evaluate the state of the solid waste industry in Carroll.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing to hear you are going in the right direction," Sprehe said. "It doesn't need a major overhaul."

Howard said if the information is not able to predict or encompass a course of action, it's not worth $100,000.

"A lot of this information we've heard from our own people before," he said. "We would never have gone down this path if we knew we weren't going to get something new."

The process to begin the study was begun by Moser's predecessor in the spring of last year without the prior board of commissioners consent or input.

In October, the prior board met with KCI to explain what they wanted to see in the study — such as the rate at which the landfill in Pennsylvania is filling up, and an accurate projection of where the waste industry is headed — and voted unanimously to allow KCI to continue.

Who should pay for the deficit?

The future of the solid waste industry in Carroll hinges on two possibilities, Howard said. Either the commissioners can choose to implement some of KCI's suggestions — such as the creation of a system benefit charge and the elimination of coupons — and let the taxpayers shoulder the burden, or they can mandate specific system changes to the haulers, such as collection districts, and attempt to offset the deficit that way, he said.

"We have to determine what is our philosophy?" Howard said.

The commissioners agreed to maintain its present course of hauling solid waste to landfills outside of Carroll until the county's Solid Waste Advisory Council is able to review the study and make their proposal concerning the future of the industry.

Karen Leatherwood, another member of the council, said it seemed as if several of the commissioners were hoping for "some magical answer that would solve the trash problem."

"This issue cannot be solved by one fell swoop, it will be solved incrementally," leatherwood said. "It confirms everything that a group of citizens experts had come up with three years ago, so now we need to move forward."

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or