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Job cuts, disposal center fees, proposed to help meet Hernando County landfill expenses

BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission earlier this week canned any notion of raising the fee that property owners pay to run the landfill. But with expenses climbing, cuts will be needed to balance the books.

County utilities director Joe Stapf on Tuesday outlined to the board some of his options, including losing the equivalent of 20 of his 55 employees.

Stapf met Thursday with his employees to answer questions and said he thought it was a good meeting. But his workers, he said, are clearly concerned about what will happen next.

Of the 20 employees Stapf may lose, about a half dozen are workers who come in when needed through an employment agency. Another 10 work in recycling. A couple of heavy equipment operators are also among that number.

Other changes Stapf proposed include privatizing recycling center operations, removing the subsidy Hernando County pays for Spring Hill's curbside recycling, and charging for the use of the two convenience centers.

Stapf also anticipates reduced hours at the convenience centers and the landfill only being open five days a week instead of the current six.

In his report, Stapf noted that the dump could be full before an expansion is completed, the expansion has to be paid for, and other costs are climbing.

"We can provide a level of service,'' he said. "It's not going to be the same. It can't be the same.''

Commissioners on Tuesday rejected steps toward boosting the annual $63 solid waste assessment fee paid by property owners to operate the county landfill. They will have a workshop on June 9 to discuss this and other utility-related issues.

Stapf wants the commission to consider changing the county's solid waste ordinance to allow commercial trash haulers to take Hernando County's garbage outside the county to other dumps.

He estimates that could keep an average of 100 tons of garbage per day out of the county landfill, and avoid filling it up before the expansion is done.

Stapf also continues to talk to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection about ways that the county might be able to continue to use open areas of the landfill.

"Further prolonging our capacity life is important because our projections still suggest the current cell will be filled too close to the completion date of our new cell,'' Stapf wrote. "We still have no margin for error for administrative or weather-related delays.''

Stapf estimates the annual payment on the loan to complete the expansion at $600,000. That amount spread among the 76,000 properties assessed would add another $5 a year to the solid waste assessment for residential properties. Commercial interests would face higher tipping fees.

But that might change. Recently he learned that Hernando might be eligible for money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even if there is no loan to pay back, Stapf states in his memo that "our costs are continuing to rise and our revenues are declining or remaining static.''

He cites as an example the county's Recycled Materials Processing Center which costs $1.4 million to run annually. While last year the resale of the materials generated nearly $900,000, Stapf predicts that falling commodity prices will mean just $400,000 will be brought in this year.

Stapf has already spoken with the private company that handles the Polk County recycling and suggests that joining that agreement might be beneficial to the county. The firm would pay Hernando for the rights to the recycling program.

Another way to save, Stapf suggests in his memo, would be to stop paying the $1.26 per property per month that the county gives to Waste Management in the curbside recycling area of Spring Hill.

That might result in the hauler raising their fee to customers by that amount, Stapf notes. However, even if that happens, the new $11.49 a month fee would be at or near what the county's other two waste haulers now charge per month.

Also among the possible moves is to charge residents $2 per visit to the convenience centers. While the solid waste assessment pays the $1.17 million the two centers are expected to cost in the new year, only about 25,000 assessed properties use the centers.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.1 inch 1 inch of body type 1 inch

fast facts

Proposed changes

• Privatize recycling center operations

• Remove the subsidy Hernando County pays for Spring Hill's curbside recycling

• Charge for the use of the two convenience centers

• Utilities department losing equivalent of 20 employees

Job cuts, disposal center fees, proposed to help meet Hernando County landfill expenses 05/28/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 28, 2009 7:24pm]
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