Waste woes: Authority trims recycling, eyes deficits
With revenues slammed by an ailing economy and a thriving private competitor, the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority will begin closing the popular McIntire Recycling Center on Mondays as part of an effort to rein in expenses.
"In order to deal with some of those reductions in revenue, we have cut operational expenses 17 percent," explained Waste Authority financial manager Lonnie Wood, filling in for executive director Tom Frederick, who was reportedly out sick Monday, April 27, when the board publicly heard the news. "We just went line by line."
Such cuts weren't enough, however, to balance the Waste budget, whose operating revenues are expected to fall 32 percent. To cover the expected deficits, Wood proposed a budget that gathers over $1.3 million from local governments and pulls about $1.1 million from its own reserves.
More deficits could appear on the horizon, according to a memo making the rounds at the meeting. Penned by the absent director in response to a recent Hook story, the memo suggests that more service cuts and and perhaps a restructuring–- or something more dire–- lies in the Authority's future.
Frederick blasts the Authority's own service contribution fee as "shrinking" and "not sustainable," and it blames the contract that created the fee for having "seeded" a recent dispute between the the City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle.
"If the future decision is to eliminate the Authority, it will not be because the Authority failed to succeed," Frederick writes, "but instead because the County and City will reach a conclusion that their future recycling and solid waste efforts need to take a completely diverse path from one another."
Already, the proceeds of the $16 fee have shrunk to the point that they're no longer the Waste Authority's main revenue source of revenue. Fee income is budgeted to fall from $1.7 million to just $1 million in the coming budget year, a one-year decrease of 44 percent.
Closing the McIntire facility on Mondays disappoints Watts Schwab, who– along with over a dozen other citizens– was using the Center in the moments shortly after the fateful announcement.
"It just gets terrific use, even on rainy days," Schwab said as 16 material-laden cars thronged the Center's parking lot. Fellow recycler Steve Shuman was less perturbed.
"I can do it whenever I need to," said Shuman. "As long as it's open on weekends."
Wood said that typically lower useage makes Monday the best day to axe and the safest to empty the containers.
"All days are busy, but that day's probably the slowest," Wood noted at the board meeting, held at the Authority headquarters, which was steeped this day in a smell giving ample evidence that it shares a site with the Moore's Creek human waste treatment facility.
Speaking of which, the bids to expand and renovate the treatment plant have come in, and the low bid was more than $9 million below the estimate of consulting engineers, Hazen & Sawyer.
The Water & Sewer Authority board, a sister organization to the Waste Authority, voted at its meeting to give director Frederick, despite his absence, authorization to award a construction contract to Adams Robinson Enterprises, Inc. of Dayton, Ohio in the amount of $40.3 million, with a state grant expected to pay up to $21 million of the total.
Wood told the board that the Authority had been facing a January 1, 2011 mandate for removing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous from its discarges into the Rivanna River.
In other activity, the board– which will be augmented next month by two new members due to its apparent insulation from the electorate– heard from three citizens who suggested that the Water Authority may not need to build its proposed new reservoir because water use has been falling over recent months and years.
"It's great that it's gone down," said Chair Mike Gaffney when asked if he might quash the dam. Attributing some of the consumption decline to the current economic malaise, Gaffney said he'd first need to examine the City conservation report which was presented to City Council April 20.