Niles approves resolution asking for landfill operations study

NILES TOWNSHIP — Niles Township leaders want to know if the Southeast Berrien County Landfill is serving taxpayers as intended. 

During a Monday night meeting, trustees discussed commissioning a study to answer a handful of questions that would help them find the answer. They voted unanimously to approve a resolution that advises the landfill board to initiate a study of their operations. This is the second time that trustees have expressed support for the review. They also voted unanimously in September to pursue a study. 

The review will be contingent upon landfill board members approving it and paying for the cost.  Other municipal owners must also show support. According to trustees, the city of Niles has also expressed interest in a study. 

The landfill is owned by five municipalities, including Niles Township, which has 40 percent ownership. Two of the township’s trustees, Dan Pulaski and Herschel Hoese, serve as board members to the landfill.

Tyler Ganus, the general manager of the landfill, was present during the meeting. He said he was there to listen to feedback.

In a follow-up interview via phone Tuesday, Ganus said he was glad to have attended the meeting.

“I understand the concerns,” Ganus said. “It’s always good to stay informed, especially being in the capacity that I am. Good to know what they are thinking, better than hearing it on paper.”

He said he could not speak for other board members on whether or not they were in support of the study.

Ganus was appointed as interim manager in 2017. He has served as the general manager for about a year.

Ganus took over leadership of the landfill after the former general manager Clyde “Sonny” of Fuller III and Terry Snow, a mechanic and maintenance worker at the landfill, were both convicted for embezzling from the landfill. They were sentenced last year to serve prison terms.

Ringler emphasized that the questions trustees have extended beyond the influence of recent management. 

“This has nothing to do with you, Tyler. Truthfully it doesn’t,” Ringler said. “It may have more to do with if you look at the history of the landfill going back 20 to 25 years. I mean we just went through these guys that ended up in prison  … but they are not the first ones that have had issues out there.”

Hoese said such studies are pretty standard for a number of businesses. 

“I just think it is wise to know your exposure financially,” Hoese said. “Any good business, I’ve said, will analyze their direction and maybe alter course here or there. I don’t think it is any different than any business. We should know where we are at and where we are headed.”

Ringler said the recent embezzlement is not the only thing that motivated municipal owners to ask for a study. He said trustees want to assure that the landfill is serving the purpose it was initially set up for — to serve as a place for residents to put their trash. 

“There is no financial benefit. However, we hold all the liability,” Ringler said.

Ringler said it is unknown at this time who would conduct the study and what the cost to the landfill would be.

Pulaski said he would share the resolution with the landfill board during their next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16. 

Trustees compiled a list of questions they hope to find answers to, including:

• Are the Articles of Incorporation and amended Articles relevant and fair to all the owner municipalities?

• Are the bylaws relevant and fair to all the owner municipalities?

• Is the landfill serving the original intent? Outside area trash? Longevity of the site?

• What is the ownership value to the owner municipalities?

• What is the current value of the landfill?

• Should owner municipalities oversee the operation of the landfill or should that be contracted out to experts? What would be the costs of contracting out management services?

• Should the landfill be sold?

• What would be the liability to owner municipalities if the landfill was sold? Can you contractually shelter future liabilities in a sale?

• If owner municipalities operate the landfill through closure what is the perpetual care costs?

• Can the closure fund cover those costs in perpetuity? If not, are the owner municipalities in a financial position to cover those costs without a revenue stream from the landfill?

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