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Solid waste board officials see potential demise

May 17, 2011

Hank Mayer

    The Adams County Solid Waste Management District Board is preparing to take action to help thwart a possible move in the Indiana legislature to prevent property taxes from being used to finance all the county solid waste districts in the state and to keep the local waste-handling operation going in a different way if such a bill becomes law.
    At Monday's meeting of the solid waste board, the members heard from Matt Lehman of Berne, the Republican state representative whose district includes Adams County, about a possible bill that was first filed a few years ago by a state senator from Hancock County.
    Lehman said the 2011 measure, in the form of a resolution, never got out of a committee in the Senate and said, "There is little or no support in the Senate" for the idea. He said the chairman of the House committee that would consider such a bill "has no interest in this at all."
    However, after the meeting, Hank Mayer, the county waste district director, said that, on Monday afternoon, he contacted the legislative aide to State Senator Travis Holdman and was told that the resolution was passed by the Senate on a voice vote, with Holdman voting "No." Holdman also represents Adams County.
    Mayer said Holdman's aide said the voice-vote approval sent the resolution to the Senate's leadership for consideration about whether to discuss the matter at a summer study session held by state legislators.
    Mayer said he has been at meetings of waste district leaders and was told that Gov. Mitch Daniels is behind the idea and so are officials in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). As he told the board yesterday, "There's a lot of horsepower behind it" and "it's really got legs on it."
    Mayer stated that of the bill is passed, it would remove from more than half of the waste districts in the state $38 million in revenue and replace it with just $5.2 million in state money. "If we were to lose that revenue, it would be very difficult to continue operation," said Mayer, who added that he is "very concerned about it" and noted that "a lot of people are very concerned."
    The director said the massive cut in finances is predicated on a 50 percent reduction of waste disposed of in landfills and a correspondingly large increase in recycling. Such a huge rise in recycling, primarily by the public, is "an absurd goal that's never going to be met," he said.
    Mayer said the 62 waste districts in Indiana include some that serve several counties and more than half of the districts receive property tax money.
    At present, Mayer stated, the county waste district gets $700,000 per year in property tax proceeds, about $500,000 annually in gate receipts from people dumping refuse, and $75,000 to $100,000 yearly by selling recycled materials.
        A summary of the bill proposed by the Hancock County senator says it would "eliminate the authority of a solid waste management district to impose property taxes, except to repay outstanding bonds, and otherwise limit the authority of a solid waste management district" and also "provide for funding of a solid waste management district from the state solid waste management fund."
    Mayer said, "We have to have a plan" to keep services to the public and the district's legal counsel, Tim Baker, said that if the waste transfer station is closed, there would be "a huge increase in illegal dumping" all over the county in what he called a "nightmare" situation.
    Baker said, "We must be prepared to act if we have to."
    Lehman agreed with Mayer that this matter "is not something you ignore." The legislator said that, with the 2012 General Assembly session being a short one, he does not think a solid waste bill would come up for a vote until at least the session starting in January of 2013.
    Lehman said he would "stay diligent on this issue" and report to local officials whatever he learns about such a bill and its progress.
    He remarked that he does not know why the bill was proposed, but speculated that the Hancock County senator may have had an issue arise within that county. Mayer, however, said he thinks those who back the idea are doing so at the request of large private trash-hauling and disposal companies, since they would benefit greatly if local waste districts close.
    The seven-member waste board — which includes the three county commissioners, the mayors of Decatur and Berne, a member of the Decatur City Council, and a member of the county council — will join other waste district leaders across Indiana to publicly push against any limitation bill in the legislature.
    In a related matter, the board was given a document to review for the July 18 meeting on the 2012 budget proposal of $1,434,147, just $8,500 above this year's budget.

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