Guest Editorial: Proposed Tioga County Mandatory Source Separation Law

As written the proposed law is flawed, unenforceable, and costly. It will have consequences (intended or otherwise) that are undesirable. There is a better alternative, which is to form a municipal (i.e. county wide) special district for solid waste management, which is funded by a benefit assessment tax (as opposed to an ad valorem property assessment tax).

Definition of Solid Waste: Proposed local law Section 4.A references “Title 6 Part 360 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, Solid Waste Management Facilities, as amended” for definition of terms. Section 4.B contains a definition of “Solid Waste” which is inconsistent with 6 CRR-NY 360. Moreover, “Waste” (as opposed to “Solid Waste”) is used in the local law. The definition of “Waste” would therefore default to the definition in 6 CRR-NY 360.2(a)(1) which states:
Solid waste or waste means, except as described in paragraph (3) of this subdivision, discarded materials including solid, liquid, semi-solid, or contained gaseous material, resulting from industrial, municipal, commercial, institutional, mining or agricultural operations or from residential activities including materials that are recycled or that may have value.

Note that recyclable materials are specifically included, not excluded, in this 6 CRR-NY 360 definition.

In addition to the ambiguity in definition of Solid Waste, tt is unclear as to the difference between “Waste Generator” and “Generator”, which is defined in 6 CRR-NY 360.2(b)(122). In Section 6.A it is unclear who keeps records. Document alphanumeric references break down for “Multifamily buildings and complexes”, “Residential / commercial (institutional) and industrial waste and recyclables”, and “Penalties for Waste Haulers”.

In Section 6 and Section 7, the word “article” is used repeatedly. Does “article” refer only to the subject section, or to Section 8.D and E or to some other specific section or sections? See also Section 8.G. Section 5.A contains the word “placement”, which is not a verb. It is unclear as to the implied second imperative after the word “and”. Section 5.B contains the word “published” without specifying how. Section 5.C is a definition. It belongs in Section 4.B. [others].

This proposed local law mandates actions and monetary expense on persons (and perhaps entities) who are not capable of compliance. The validity of such law is suspect.

Consider the indigent, a poor or destitute person, of which there are many in Tioga County. An indigent person cannot afford a Waste Hauler and cannot afford personal transportation of recyclables. Recyclables are usually more than half of the household solid waste stream. Because recyclables are part of the household waste stream, they will be disposed with the rest. The recyclables (and other trash) will either be burned or dumped. In either case, the environmental consequence is the antithesis of recycling purpose. Is Tioga County prepared to increase its subsidies to the poor to include increased Waste Hauler fees?

The proposed local law does not consider the distinction of a owner occupied multifamily building (two families) from a larger apartment building. It imposes an unnecessary requirement for a “recycling drop off”.

Removing curbside recycling fees from the Tioga County budget does not remove the cost to the taxpayer. On the contrary, because the average taxpayer does not have the bargaining power of the County, it is likely that the sum of costs of recycling to the taxpayer will be higher than the taxes paid for the same service.  

While the cost of recycling under the proposed law for householders would be difficult (but not impossible) to estimate, it is easy to see that it would be higher than the estimated County run program at $114 per year per household. Taylor’s costs will be passed on Waste Haulers who will take a profit and pass the cost on to households. The more hands that costs pass through, the higher the price to the consumer.

A simple low-ball model for me, a household who chooses to “do it yourself”, is: $5.75, 10-mile round trip; Federal mileage expense rate is $0.25 and 25 lbs at $0.1/lb (St. Lawrence Co. recyclables rate); 26 trips (i.e. biweekly) equals a $156.00 annual cost.

The proposed local law is driven by an increase in the price of contracted service for the curbside pickup and disposal of recyclables. Until now the contracted services have been paid from the General Fund and Recycle Fund, which are funded by ad velorem real estate taxes. It is presumed that the County legislature is averse to increasing real estate taxes, and thus wishes to shift the cost the users. Overall the proposed local law would cost the residents of the County more than what the County could pay for the service. There is an alternative that shifts the cost of recycling to the users of the service, but maintains the bargaining power of the County’s large volume.  

That alternative is in New York State municipal law that permits the creation of a special district for specific services. Such districts may be funded by a “benefit assessment tax” instead of an ad valorem tax. For example, a benefit assessment might by in “units”, with a number of units assigned based on a dwelling’s or business’s characteristics.  

Another alternative is in County Law, CNT § 250, which permits: The board of supervisors of each county may establish, consolidate, or extend county water, water quality treatment, sewer, wastewater disposal, drainage or refuse districts (hereinafter referred to in this article as the “district”) in the manner hereinafter provided: For the purpose of the collection and disposition of garbage, ashes, rubbish and other waste matter within the county.  

It is of note that many “special district” taxes or fees are not exempted, which potentially spreads the special district tax over a larger base.

I elect representatives to government office to solve community problems. I feel betrayed when legislators or executives abdicate this responsibility. The recycling expense issue addressed by this proposed local law is “passing the buck”. 

The increased costs of recycling will be paid, or recycling will not happen.  Recycling is acknowledged as a common community good and is State law mandated. Recycling must happen and therefore must be paid for. Efficient recycling at the lowest total cost seems best managed at the County level. 

The “tax cap” is politically sensitive, but is not so sacred that it cannot be exceeded. 

4 Comments on "Guest Editorial: Proposed Tioga County Mandatory Source Separation Law"

  1. Kristy Beeman | October 8, 2020 at 2:45 pm | Reply

    Well said.

  2. what should be done is in the village of owego on mcmaster st at the village barn . 1)put up pole barns for dumpters were people can bring in recycle. and seperate it themselves one or to days a week. the investment would pay for itselfs in no time and one hour every other day or so one guy run it over to taylors.

  3. Two things:
    1. You can’t create a special district in the middle the Assessment Roll year, so if you went the special district route the special district wouldn’t be in effect until the January 2022 Town & County tax bills.
    2. Exceeding the 2% tax cap would have a negative impact on state aid, which is already being cut due to Covid. Remember, well over 90% of County budget goes to state mandates.

  4. In order to compare any proposal to the status quo, we must know the status quo. My understanding is that our current contract with Taylor for recycling requires them to collect red bins full of recyclables, but does NOT bind them to actually recycling anything–they may try to recycle a material with a market that will allow them to break even or make a profit on the material, but also to landfill any nominal recyclables for which there is no extant market. Is this true? Neither Taylor nor Tioga County can compel a market to exist for recyclables that are cost-effective to recycle only at or above a certain price of oil, for example. It is hard to imagine that it would not be true, but please, wiser ones than me, answer this basic question. My point is that if only, say, steel cans, aluminum cans, and #1 plastic are currently NOT landfilled, then the County might be able to structure a collection effort which involves a pickup only every other week and which represents the TRUE recycling going on. This could be modified with changing market conditions and communication to the residents. In summary, we are arguing in a vacuum about the unvarnished good that recycling is if we don’t know what percentage of the objects going into red bins are actually recycled. Only 3 counties in NYS still do curbside recycling, and I don’t believe that the other 59 counties are filled with wanton wastrels.

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