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Mono County and Town of Mammoth Lakes are talking trash

April 9, 2011

Tim Keller at work at the Benton Crossing landfill east of Mammoth. Photo/Tim Willoughby

It could certainly be considered a case of strange bedfellows.

On one side of the bed, Mammoth Lakes, supposedly filled with affluence and arrogance.

On the other side, Mono County, supposedly rural, not rich, resentful.

When it suits them both, they get along fine.

When it does not, they do not.

Such was the case Tuesday, April 5, when the subject of smelly, dirty garbage revealed the ongoing tension between Town and County.

Garbage, of all things.

It started when the county, deeply worried about the fact that it is losing thousands of dollars a day because trash costs far outweigh revenues, started looking for a way to plug the $80,000-per-month leak.

Fast.

But when the county and Mammoth Lakes started talking about it – after all, everyone uses the county’s landfills, including Mammoth Lakes – things got a bit more complicated.

“It’s a question of equity,” said Town Councilwoman Jo Bacon. “The Town is paying too much for what it gets.”

“The equity issue really comes down to cost versus revenues generated for the County Solid Waste Enterprise Fund,” said Town Public Works Director Ray Jarvis, trying to explain the whole thing to the Mammoth Times.

“According to (a study) completed by HDR (consultants) last November, Town customers paid about 56 percent of the system fees, but should only be allocated 40 percent of the costs. Therefore, the Town customers are overpaying by 16 percent.”

He added that the county has asked HDR to prepare supplemental reports since then that show different numbers (adding to the confusion, no doubt).

“For the most part, the costs remain relatively stable and the fees collected fluctuate based on the waste stream. Mammoth is the biggest customer ... and has always generated more in fees ... than costs.

“There have been different ideas proposed on how best to fix the imbalance, but to date nothing has been agreed upon.”

And to that, both sides agreed.

“If the Town had attended the meetings, they would have had a place at the table and we could have solved this,” said District 1 Supervisor Larry Johnston.

“The numbers that say there are inequities in the first place need to be looked at again,” he added.

“If [the county] had talked about policy like this inequity issue, we would have continued to attend the meetings,” Bacon said. “As it was, they told us they were not interested in that discussion right now, but needed to focus on their short term goal (to “stop the bleeding” from the county’s coffers due to the gap between incoming revenues and garbage disposal costs).

And so it went.

Both governments spent hours this week talking about garbage, one during the county supervisors’ meeting Tuesday afternoon, one during Wednesday night’s Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting.
When it was over, the problem might have actually gotten worse, after the county supervisors voted 3-2 to not allow a high enough proposed increase in the county tipping fee (dump disposal fee) to address the Town’s equity issues.

Instead of the $80-a-ton fee that would allow more money to go to the Town, the county agreed to go no higher than $68.50 a ton, which plugs the short-term leak but doesn’t address the Town’s concerns. (The current tipping fee is $48-$50 a ton.)

Supervisor Vikki Bauer, who had proposed the higher fee increase, was not happy with the vote.
“If we lose buy-in from the town and have a bigger problem, I am definitely saying I told you so,” she said in an e-mail Wednesday morning.

Supervisor Byng Hunt also believed the county should have taken the larger possible increase to an upcoming public hearing on the issue, arguing it was better to do it once, rather than have to come back again if more analysis showed the fees needed to go up later.

At issue is the fact that the Town’s final resting spot for its trash, the Benton Crossing dump, will be full in a decade.

That may not seem to be a big deal since the crisis is a decade away but it is, because it can take almost that long to find and permit another landfill. (This sense of urgency is also why the issue of hauling the trash from Mono County to Nevada is on the table – it might be cheaper and easier than finding and permitting and paying for another landfill, pending more study.)

A public hearing regarding the county’s proposed increase of trash tipping fees will be held in Bridgeport on April 19.

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