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County council to rethink its trash disposal strategy Hauling firm makes sales pitch


After listening to a 90-minute sales pitch from one of the nation's largest trash haulers yesterday, two County Council members said they want to delete an $8 million yard waste composting facility from the county executive's proposed $76 million capital budget.

Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, agreed with representatives of Browning-Ferris Industries that the council should wait until a comprehensive solid waste plan is adopted this summer before voting to fund expensive trash projects.

Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said he agreed in theory with what Browing-Ferris is proposing, but he said the yard waste facility and a $59.7 million project to cap cells at Alpha Ridge Landfill should be kept in the budget to provide flexibility.

Although County Executive Charles I. Ecker included $12.7 million in his proposed budget to close an existing cell at the landfill, Browning-Ferris representative John L. Lininger told the council there was "no urgency" to pay for it in the coming fiscal year because it will take a year for trash in the cell to settle.

Mr. Lininger recommends that the county close Alpha Ridge entirely in fiscal 1995 and allow commercial trash haulers like Browning-Ferris to dispose of trash outside the county. Any trash hauling proposal should also include bids on closing the remaining cells at the landfill, Mr. Lininger said.

John J. O'Hara, chief of the county bureau of environmental services, agreed that the trash would not settle until spring but reminded the council that by law, work to cap a cell must start within two years of the closing of that cell.

The county has yet to decide whether it is better to spend more each year in operating costs or to develop expensive long-term solutions, Mr. O'Hara said. He said it would cost about $5 million to $10 million more a year to dispose of trash outside the county.

The other side of the issue, Mr. Lininger said, is that the county could save $67 million long-term by taking its trash outside the county and avoiding expensive projects. He suggested the county charge residents a fee based on the volume of trash they generate.

Spread evenly, a $5 million increase would amount to about $67 a household.

When added to current collection costs, the price for trash collection and disposal would be about $150 a household.

Meanwhile, the county could keep Alpha Ridge as an emergency back up, Mr. Lininger said.

Moving trash outside the county "is probably the way we have to go," said Mr. Drown. "It buys us five to 10 years." By then, a new technology may be developed that could solve the trash problem, Mr. Drown believes.

In other budget action yesterday, Ms. Pendergrass and Mr. Farragut opposed putting a cap on school employee raises by limiting how much the board of education may spend in each of its categories.

Mr. Ecker and Mr. Drown want the council to do exactly that. They say it is unfair for school employees to have a raise nearly double that of other county employees, especially when other employees suffered layoffs during the budget crisis and school employees did not. They want school system and nonschool system employees to receive the same percentage increase.

The equity issue is so important to Mr. Ecker that when the school board sent him an amended budget asking for $4.5 million more in salary increases and $800,000 more in other projects, he refused to fund either.

The school board, meanwhile, told the council it will cut $5.3 million in other programs rather than deny school system employees a raise negotiated earlier this year.

"I'm glad they're honoring the [salary] contract," Ms. Pendergrass said. Mr. Drown and Mr. Ecker see it differently. They said the only way to preserve educational programs and keep all county salary increases at the same rate is for the council to break with tradition and tell the school board how to spend its dollars.

Ms. Pendergrass, Mr. Farragut and C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, are against that idea. The school board "will have to make the decision as to what's best for the children," Mr. Farragut said.

Ms. Pendergrass said yesterday the council will not be able to fund all of the $5.3 million Mr. Ecker cut from the board's amended request, but she will try to find at least $2 million.

The council will hold a budget work session at 8 p.m. today. It will vote on the capital and operating budgets and set the property tax rate May 20.

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