MOSA prepares for loss of Otsego County
Legislature gave OK to leave trash authority
HOWES CAVE Boosted recyclable collection and about $1.2 million in spending cuts outlined in MOSA’s 2011 Annual Report are some factors indicating the tri-county waste authority is operating more efficiently than it has in past years.
But it’s a success that’s likely to be short-lived as the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority begins exploring details of Otsego County’s departure.
Attorneys and officials representing the three counties met this week to iron out some of the details that need to be addressed before Otsego County pulls about 40 percent of the garbage out of the three-county waste stream.
The work, which follows state legislation allowing the county’s departure, comes at a time when MOSA costs are less of an issue for the local governments. In 2011, the cost of dropping off a ton of garbage dipped to $69, compared with $109 per ton in 2009.
In terms of collecting recyclable materials — part of MOSA’s mission — the agency drew in 1,070 more tons of recyclables from Montgomery and Schoharie counties in 2011. Otsego County handles its own recycling.
A new, less expensive contract to transport waste to landfills, added to boosted tonnage from tropical storms Irene and Lee, resulted in MOSA requiring no subsidies from the counties. And there were no shortfall penalties levied against the counties, a factor that relieved taxpayers of even more cost.
Strained relations among the three counties have grown over the years, however, and Otsego County is destined to go it on its own as soon as possible.
MOSA Chairman John Thayer on Friday said the chairs of each county’s legislative board and their attorneys discussed the next steps earlier this week. He said landfills are one important issue. MOSA owns three landfills — in Cooperstown, Randall and Fort Johnson — all of which are shut down. Thayer is advocating Otsego County maintain 40 percent ownership.
Though they are closed, Thayer said the landfills have to be maintained for 30 years, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for taxpayers in Schoharie and Montgomery counties to bear the full responsibility for them.
“In the future, if there’s an issue with the landfills and if MOSA is dissolved in the next couple of years or if it ceases to exist, than I think there needs to be some actual owners of the landfills,” Thayer said.
There’s already some disagreement in appraising MOSA’s assets. Otsego County is expecting to recoup 40 percent of the authority’s assets upon its departure, but Thayer said there’s an indication the county doesn’t want to pay for the appraisal. Thayer said MOSA wouldn’t be appraising all its property if it weren’t for Otsego County’s pullout.
“My offer was that MOSA will pay for it up front but I want an agreement in place that states [Otsego County] will pay for 40 percent of the appraisal process,” Thayer said.
Ed Wesnofske, an Otsego County representative on the MOSA board, on Friday said he’s hoping the counties and MOSA can avoid a protracted legal battle over the issue, but he wasn’t overly optimistic. He described the state Legislature’s act approving Otsego County’s pullout as ordering the counties to “paint the picture.”
“But they didn’t give us any canvas or paint,” Wesnofske said. “Things are really complicated because there are a number of legal steps that are involved and there’s also a lot of legal ambiguity.”
Wesnofske said there’s already a lot of “huffing and puffing” going on over the issue. People are passing out leaflets at the Oneonta transfer station urging residents to call their legislators and call for a halt to the MOSA pullout, much to the ire of some Otsego County leaders, Wesnofske said.
Otsego County Legislature Chairwoman Kathy Clark submitted a letter to MOSA in March decrying efforts to change the county’s mind. In the letter, Clark said efforts to change people’s minds about the county leaving MOSA “have only strengthened our resolve.”
Efforts to reach Clark were unsuccessful Friday.
There are others, like Otsego County Legislator Donald Lindberg, who believe Otsego County won’t find a cheaper way to dispose of its garbage. And some in Otsego County contend MOSA should be paying for the appraisal of properties because the authority should know what it owns and what it’s worth.
Wesnofske said he is hoping disputes can be resolved with a simple and inexpensive process instead of “in the court system, with lawyers, referees or appointed masters.”
Wesnofske said MOSA is holding a planning committee meeting Thursday, when he hopes more details can be worked out.