County looks to cut solid waste costs

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According to Socorro County studies, officials said the solid waste program has been losing money for far too long.

County Manager Delilah Walsh said during the Aug. 12 County Commission meeting the county has transferred between $400,000 and $600,000 from the general fund to the solid waste fund in order to keep it operating the last few years.

It was mentioned during the budget hearing before the finances were submitted to the Department of Finance and Administration that solid waste would be a key to reducing the county's deficit and stop the transfer of reserve cash balances.

The survey, the report and a general idea of what a new solid waste system could look like are all detailed in the report on the county's transparency website under the meeting's agenda from Aug. 12.

An ordinance to adjust the costs and implement the punch cards has yet to be written but will be brought before commissioners in the near future.

"This has been known to us for at least four years, and our solid waste fund is heavily subsidized by the general fund," Walsh said. "It's not self-sustaining at all."

The program would replace the ownership sticker with a punch card that would be billed on usage. Walsh said the costs associated with the punch card will need to reflect historic data.

A survey from 2013 shows most users of county solid waste are residential from the Polvadera community with a few businesses.

The four transfer stations with the most to least volume have been outlined in the report to reflect hours of operation. Veguita and Polvadera are the highest volume, San Antonio is medium and La Joya is low.

"If you wanted to have 20 punches a year, your cost would go from $80 to $50, which is a cost of $2.50 a punch," Walsh said. "The more punches you buy, you get a lower cost."

Each punch is equivalent to a certain amount of solid waste.

Solid Waste and Facilities Director Michael Jojola said the user-based system would make it easier on those who do not generate as much waste as high-volume producers.

"I think the biggest problem we're having in solid waste is everybody pays $80 a year, but you have people who only use it once a month," Jojola said. "Then you have some people who are using higher volume. There's a lot of abuse in the system."

There are also some costs that will be associated with the estimated subsidy, but Walsh said once those are in place, the fund should almost be self-sustaining. Some of those costs include compactors that would cut costs on haul times, driver time, fuel costs and wear on trucks, Walsh said.

"Once we break even on solid waste and calculate future capital outlay, we'll be able to start scaling the costs down," Walsh said. "In the future we might be able to get 30 punches down to the cost of 50 punches."

Implementing curbside service in the survey was shot down overwhelmingly by the county residents, coming in at 61.1 percent "not at all likely" to use that service. Residents also said, at 71.2 percent that they would not be willing to pay $19 to $24 for the service.

"By just having pure punch system, we don't do extra work on ownership rights," Delilah said. "It's more fair to everyone."

County Attorney Arden Nance reiterated the sentiments of going to a user-based system from a legal standpoint.

"The cleanest legal mechanism for solid waste under the current statutory scheme … in fairness, is a citizen or person paying for the solid waste that they produce," Nance said. "There's no subsidy from other taxpayers."

County officials are hoping to get more input from customers to tailor the ordinance.

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