With the County Council’s budget deliberations now completed, the only remaining step is to hold a public hearing to receive public comment on the budget, and then take the final vote. Numerous complex and controversial issues were discussed this budget cycle, including the Mayor’s proposal to close the Salt Lake Valley Transfer station on January 1, 2018, as part of his 2018 budget.
Closing the transfer station outright in this manner would have a very sudden and negative impact on residents in South Salt Lake, Salt Lake City, and the cities/townships who are part of Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District (Taylorsville, Magna, Kearns, Herriman, Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Millcreek, White City, Copperton, Emigration Canyon, and the unincorporated areas). Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District operates on a calendar year budget and their Board has approved and finalized the 2018 budget. The closure in January would have put their organization in a crisis mode since they would have had no time to properly prepare.
That being said, I recognize that the transfer station is a net drain on the county. It is losing $2.7 million annually due to prices marked lower than the true cost. According to an interlocal agreement, Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District and other entities pay about $10 less per ton on dumping fees than the actual costs when they use the transfer station, and South Salt Lake uses the transfer station at no cost because the transfer station was located in their city. Recognizing this budgetary reality, I’m always appreciative of ideas to save money and reduce county costs.
So during our budget deliberation I made the motion to look at three options:
I think it’s important that, if the Council decides to close the transfer station, we delay doing so until at least July 1. City budgets are already approved and forcing them to make a large unanticipated change in the middle of a budget year simply isn’t prudent. That motion passed, so we will be exploring those options further.
As soon as county staff completes their analysis of these three options, we’ll have them report back to the council for further action.
Besides analyzing fiscal impacts, it will also be important for the council to look at our philosophy on the role of the county in conjunction with waste management. Even with the $2.7 million loss at the transfer station, the landfill overall is in the black. The question then becomes, do we subsidize the landfill because we are still making a profit overall? The Transfer Station is part of an integrated waste management system that works for managing the waste in the SL Valley. If the Transfer Station, or any other facility is removed from the system it puts burdens on the other facilities in the system.
Salt Lake County is no longer the entity that collects waste - each city contracts with a private provider or is part of Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District. Some worry that the county closing the transfer station means that all waste collection fees increase for many homeowners in the county, even while the county operates landfill services in the black. There is also concern that if the transfer station closes, and more trucks have to drive directly to the landfill, there will be more road costs, air quality issues, and other impacts to the communities surrounding the landfill. It increases the carbon footprint with more trucks on the road traveling more miles.
I’m very grateful to the people who run the transfer station, our landfill, and the wonderful partners in the valley who are all part of this important system that supports the health and safety of our community. I’m a firm believer that with continued collaboration and a more full analysis, we can find a solution moving forward that is workable to all parties, and ultimately the right thing for county taxpayers.