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County may raise fees for landfill

It's a dirty job, Stephanie Hinson admits, but Hernando County commissioners must increase landfill fees if they want to open new landfill space without going into debt.

"I know this sounds astronomical," said Hinson, the county's solid waste operations manager, as she told commissioners an increase of as much as $7.25 per year could be needed to pay for the new space without selling bonds.

Hinson made her comments on Monday as she presented her department's proposed $12.9-million budget for 1996-97. That figure includes the $5.4-million enterprise fund to operate the county's Northwest Landfill and two transfer stations.

Money to pay for landfill operations comes mainly from fees from residents and businesses that use the landfill, not property taxes.

Property taxes entered the discussion Monday, however, because of officials' recommendation to drop a contract with the Hernando Association for Retarded Citizens, which supplies clients to staff the county's recycling program.

County Administrator Chuck Hetrick recommended using prison inmates instead of HARC's clients after the association's board requested a $200,000 subsidy from the county.

Officials with the association say they asked for the money because the sale of recyclable material no longer fetches the revenue it used to.

The non-profit association has been splitting the revenue with the county and using it to help run its programs.

Commissioners discussed the HARC issue during the landfill budget presentation because the clients work at the landfill.

"I think we're making a big mistake if we don't keep HARC in our recycling program," Commissioner John Richardson said. Richardson said he received letters and calls from people who threatened to stop participating in the recycling program if HARC's contract is terminated.

Commissioner Pat Novy defended the program, saying it helps retarded people become self-sufficient: "The county is a safe environment for them."

Vice Chairman Ray Lossing and Commissioner June Ester echoed those sentiments. The commission told staff members and the association to try to work out a compromise.

Hetrick said if commissioners decide to pay the association its $200,000, they will have to cut the same amount somewhere else to avoid raising the property tax rate any more than the 1 mill Hetrick is recommending.

Association director Mark Barry said he will work with county officials this week to craft a new plan that would keep clients on the job.

On the new landfill space, Hinson proposed three options for financing a second 15-acre section. The first section is expected to be full by 2000. Construction is scheduled to begin by 1998 for the new space, estimated to cost $3.5-million, to be ready.

Hinson says the county will have $2.7-million to open the new space but must come up with $1.2-million more during the next three years to avoid sinking into debt.

The county charges $55.50 per year for single-family homes and $50.05 for multifamily homes. Owners of vacant lots do not pay the fees, so their garbage must be weighed when they bring it to the landfill.

If a $7.25 fee increase is unpalatable, Hinson said, commissioners could raise the fee by $5.25 per customer and come up with the rest of the money by placing stricter limits on tire disposal, tightening up on tipping fees for yard trash and charging county departments that use the landfill.

Another option would be to levy a $5 charge on vacant lots and increase other solid-waste fees by $3 a year.

Other choices include a $3 fee increase on occupied lots, coupled with an $850,000 loan. But Hinson said that would leave the county without enough money to open additional spaces.

Doing nothing would force the county to borrow $1.2-million, and taxpayers would end up paying an extra $597,590 in interest, Hinson said.

That would set aside no money for construction of a third space and force the county to borrow about $5-million to pay for it when it opens, Hinson said.

"That is not an option," she said.

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