Long Term Planning
Last Updated: December 9, 2022
Long Term Strategic Planning for the Madison County Solid Waste Management System
In 2021, the Madison County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to hire an engineering firm, Cornerstone Engineering and Geology, PLLC (Cornerstone), to study the long-term sustainability of the Madison County landfill operations as they currently stand. Madison County is concerned about the financial viability of the current operations, as the County does not want the ever increasing disposal fees to financially burden our community. Cornerstone was tasked with first assessing the current system and then evaluating alternatives that may improve the long term financial sustainability of the solid waste management system.
What are some of the challenges that Madison County is facing?
The primary challenge is the small scale of Madison County’s operations, and inability to achieve sufficient economies of scale. While the Madison County Landfill capacity has many years of remaining life, it is among the smallest operating landfills in New York State. It is subject to the same regulations as landfills much larger, and the equipment needs are similar. This rings true for the transfer stations and Material Recovery Facility (which processes recyclables), as well. In other words, the amount of waste that is generated within Madison County is not enough to financially sustain operations without increasing costs significantly to residents and businesses. Changes, whatever those may be, need to be considered.
Why are alternatives being evaluated for Madison County’s Solid Waste Management System?
While it’s probably not a surprise that the costs of operating the solid waste system have increased substantially in recent years, what may be surprising is that even more costs are anticipated in the next five years due to New York State’s regulatory trajectory. While it’s paramount to continue Madison County’s successful solid waste management system, it’s equally important that the County evaluate all options that could help minimize or stabilize the cost of services for County residents and businesses.
The Madison County Solid Waste Department does not receive any revenue from taxes; instead it is run as an enterprise fund (funded by user disposal fees). Waste disposal fees must be sufficient to support the entirety of the solid waste management system, including landfill operations, recycling, the convenience of transfer stations, special programs, capital expenses, and future liabilities.
Where do things stand currently?
Cornerstone has presented an initial assessment and several different options of changes to the Board to improve the long-term financial viability of the Solid Waste Department. One of those options is a public-private partnership where Madison County continues to own the landfill and partners with a private landfill operator. The Board continues to collect more information and review the options. The final report of the study is slated to be available in early January 2023. For more information, feel free to review the meeting minutes from when Cornerstone Engineering presented the results of the study.
What were the initial findings of the report and what are the next steps?
The draft report supported what the County already knew, that the current waste disposal fees are not sufficiently covering the costs of operations, capital expenses, and long term management of the landfill. If the County does not make changes to the current system, waste disposal fees will have to increase to fully fund the program’s annual costs, as well as the future responsibilities of landfill closure and post-closure monitoring. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a simple fix that was identified to close the gap.
With respect to alternatives, the draft study evaluated three options: 1) status quo, with the implementation of some efficiency measures, such as closing some of the transfer stations and beginning to charge a fee for recyclables; 2) a public-private partnership for operation and maintenance of the Madison County Landfill; and 3) closure of the Madison County Landfill and construction of a transfer station to send waste elsewhere.
The option to close the landfill was ruled out, as it does not achieve the ultimate goal of long term financial stability and sustainability. While the status quo option offered some opportunities for cost reductions, it would require the closure of transfer stations and changes to the recycling system. Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors have determined that the public-private partnership option seems to provide the best opportunity to achieve the long term goal of financial stability and sustainability. To continue evaluating that option, the next step is to issue a Request for Proposals. This would provide the County with better information about the opportunities associated with that alternative.
What decisions have been made at this time and what does the timeline look like?
The only decision that has been made is that the County will issue a Request for Proposals for the Operation and Maintenance of the Madison County Landfill. Without requesting proposals, the County doesn’t have sufficient information for decision making. The Proposals will provide additional information about the risks and benefits of a Public-Private Partnership. As for the timeline, the RFP is set to go out in the first quarter of 2023 and the Board of Supervisors is aiming to make a decision regarding which alternative to pursue thereafter. For the calendar year 2023, no changes to the current solid waste management system are anticipated.
What is the future of the Madison County transfer stations?
Madison County Solid Waste currently runs four transfer stations across the County. The transfer stations offer convenience to residents to dispose of their household garbage and recycling if they do not use a private hauler. Even though they are a convenience to our residents, they are a financial burden to the program. The draft of the study reinforces what the County already knew, that the transfer stations are not covering their operational costs alone and are being subsidized by landfill disposal fees. The question is, how does the County continue to provide the transfer station program, without significantly raising punch card and/or landfill disposal fees? At this time nothing has been decided on the future of the transfer stations.
When will residents have an opportunity to ask questions and learn more?
The County is dedicated to keeping our residents engaged in the process. There is a new webpage that focuses on the long-term strategic planning: https://www.madisoncounty.ny.gov/2938/Long-Term-Planning. As more information becomes available, it will be placed there. Currently, the meeting minutes from when the initial findings were presented to the Solid Waste Committee are available. The engineering report is slated to be added in January 2023. The County is also planning Community Outreach meetings for the first half of 2023, once more information becomes available.
I still don’t understand why we should be considering changing the current system, can you restate why?
The Madison County Board of Supervisors and Solid Waste Department are trying to plan for the future, to make sure that residents and businesses have a cost-effective solid waste management system for the next 30+ years. In order to sustain the operations as they currently exist, the punch card and waste disposal fees would need to be increased substantially, and then it is projected that there would be several more significant price hikes due to regulatory changes. The system is not currently supported by taxes, and the County is trying hard to ensure that fees remain reasonable for residents and businesses, while continuing to provide waste services that are environmentally friendly and critical to public health.