Thursday, October 29, 2009

From Arkansas Online: 'Landfill privatization on radar'

James Valley sent you this:

Landfill privatization on radar
LR mayor looks at getting operator for dump to cut costs
By Kristin Netterstrom

LITTLE ROCK — Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola wants to see who's interested in operating the city landfill, saying a private operator could generate more trash, and more income, while saving the city on employee and equipment costs.
Stodola said the amount of trash buried at the Ironton Cutoff Road landfill hasn't increased as much as he'd hoped in the year since a consultant said the landfill was underutilized.
The landfill is on track to take in a few thousand fewer tons of household trash this year than the 106,942 tons dumped in 2008, although the city's construction waste has picked up, bringing in 22,020 tons last year.
"I think it's appropriate to explore the issue," Stodola said, adding that the city won't know what kind of income it could make from privatization without seeking bids. "You don't know unless you do it."
Stodola expects Little Rock to issue a request for proposals by the end of the year to gather responses from private operators. Ideally, he said, residential garbage rates wouldn't rise and city employees would still collect trash.
City officials met with consultants from R.W. Beck on Wednesday to discuss what to put in the bid request. The landfill has more than $14 million in debt, making the bid request more complicated than a simple lease, City Manager Bruce Moore said. It's possible private operators may be willing to pay some of the debt or the city might be wholly responsible, he said.
Last year, R.W. Beck stopped short of making any recommendations to lease or sell the landfill and said in the study that the city should spend the next two years implementing suggestions for improvements and figure out whether the landfill should make money for the city.
The study concluded that the 16-year-old landfill is a valuable asset for the city. The landfill has enough space to bury trash until 2074 and could easily double its daily intake, consultants found.
Since the study, the city cut seven positions at the landfill and reduced the space used to bury trash - cost-saving measures the study recommended.
The city has also looked for more sources of trash, but Warren Atkins, who is in charge of the city's solid-waste division, said it's difficult because most of the large trash haulers also own their own landfills. Most of the waste going into the city landfill is from residential trash pickup from Little Rock homes.
The only other city landfill in southwest Little Rock, operated by BFI Waste Systems of Arkansas, is scheduled to close in May 2010. Waste Management operates its own landfill in Jacksonville.
Consultants reported that private trash haulers were interested in taking over the city landfill. But selling definitely isn't an option, Stodola and Moore said this week.
The 2008 study reported that the landfill's roughly $14.5 million debt made the cost of service high compared with similar operations in other cities. The landfill costs Little Rock about $2.7 million a year to operate when debt payments aren't included. The city's annual debt payments weren't immediately available Wednesday.
Handling 1 ton of garbage costs the city $49.46. If the landfill didn't have debt from past expansions, the cost would be $26.11 per ton. Little Rock charges waste haulers $30 per ton to drop off garbage. The difference is made up through trash bills residents pay.
After proposals are received, possibly next year, the final decision will be up to city directors, several of whom said they haven't had any discussions with the mayor about the landfill's future.
"I'm very interested in knowing what they're talking about and why they're doing it," City Director Joan Adcock said.
Adcock and City Director Brad Cazort remember when the city partially privatized trash pickup and how unhappy residents were. The city later took over all trash pickup.
"There are more issues than just saving money," Cazort said. But he's not opposed to privatization.

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