Times changes and new ideas need to be generated

Published 4:15 am Tuesday, June 7, 2005

By Staff
It was a good idea. In the early 1970s the creation of the Southeast Berrien County Landfill was a good idea. Many of the five municipalities, Niles, Niles Township, Buchanan, Buchanan Township and Bertrand Township had open dumps and for the most part, garbage and refuse disposal was not well regulated. The purpose of the Landfill Authority was to manage the collection and disposal of solid waste in the southeast region of the county.
Several years later, the general and overwhelming belief was that landfill space was disappearing; would soon be difficult and costly to obtain (if at all possible) and owning a landfill to serve the need of our communities was a good plan. But like all plans, time moves on; needs change; and the great fear of no landfill space has not come to pass. Very few of the solid waste haulers from the late 1970s and early 1980s even exist today. Most have been swallowed up by large waste management firms - the same is true in our area.
There are five owners of the Southeast Berrien County Landfill, Niles, Niles Township, Buchanan, Buchanan Township and Bertrand Township. As owners, we share in the tremendous liabilities associated with a landfill. As owners, we share in the general business risks associated with any business. As owners, we are responsible for any shortfalls, mandated needs, and, if necessary would be required to provide financial support necessary for any issue or problem that the landfill could not fund on its own.
Currently, the landfill grosses approximately $3.5 to 4 million dollars annually. And, since the landfill is not and cannot be supported solely by the waste generated by the five municipalities, approximately 70 percent of all of the waste going into the landfill comes from Indiana.
With all of the risks and liabilities from a business generating $3.5 to 4 million/year, what do the five municipalities get from being the owner of a major area landfill - absolutely nothing. No profits are shared, no free or reduced services provided. Zip. Bertrand Township earns approximately $80,000/year through tipping fees (a portion of each use of the landfill). This is Bertrand Township's payment for having the landfill in the township. They would receive tipping fees no matter who owned or operated the landfill.
Which brings me to the main point of my article. As a result of the State imposed revenue sharing cuts, most municipalities are having trouble financing services.
In the Niles, our State revenue sharing has been cut 25 percent. Our budget (for the third year in a row) will be very lean and leave little room for needed improvements and general fund spending. Niles Township is in the midst of a near crisis in Police Department funding; and I'm sure that Buchanan and Buchanan and Bertrand townships could provide enhanced community services and projects with additional monies.
As a citizen of Niles, what would your reaction be if I told you we had a way to generate significant additional money for community programs or improvements; as a Niles Township citizen, how would you feel if you could fund a police department for many years - without a millage; or as Buchanan, Buchanan Township or Bertrand Township citizens be able to fund programs and services without any tax increases, or if you desired, tax decreases?
How would we accomplish this financial feat? By selling the Southeast Berrien County Landfill. Before you throw this paper down in disgust, or call me names that cannot be repeated, let me explain. Remember, we (the five municipalities) own the landfill. We are financially responsible for the landfill. Yet even though we own it and are responsible for it, we receive nothing. But most importantly, the landfill has value. Significant value. Windfall type value. The current conservative value of the landfill is estimated at $30-40 million dollars. This estimate is based on current usage, revenue and projected life. Currently, the life of the landfill is estimated to be 40+ years. Waste disposal firms have difficulty obtaining or creating new landfill space. This one's already here. $30-40 million dollars divided among the five owners. Think of the possibilities for your community.
My friends, times change; needs change; beliefs and fears change. It was a good idea. It is no longer a good idea. In fact, the financial responsibilities are a risk for which the residents of the five municipalities should not be held responsible. For the long term benefit of our constituents, we should sell the landfill.
Yes, it would be a bold step. Yes, it is a difficult decision. Yes, we could negotiate special use for the five municipalities with a new owner. Would it solve all of our financial problems? Certainly not. But it would go a long way in smoothing out some rough edges, restoring programs, maintaining fiscal integrity and perhaps most importantly, limit or eliminate the longterm financial liability of the citizens of the five municipalities.