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Santabarbara calls for state probe of Montgomery County garbage dispute

Santabarbara calls for state probe of Montgomery County garbage dispute

Assemblyman said Amsterdam bearing brunt of cost increases
Santabarbara calls for state probe of Montgomery County garbage dispute
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara speaks before volunteers in September.
Photographer: Erica Miller

MONTGOMERY COUNTY -- Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, has asked the state Comptroller's Office to investigate the collapse of the intermunicipal garbage disposal agreement between Montgomery and Fulton counties. 

"From the moment I started my investigation into the Montgomery County garbage issue I made one thing clear to County Executive Matt Ossenfort, Amsterdam taxpayers should not be forced to pay for a contract violation that he was responsible for — and Mayor Michael Villa agreed with me," Santabarbara stated in a news release.

Following the collapse of the garbage disposal agreement between the two counties, Montgomery County began sending its garbage elsewhere at a much higher cost. It also settled a lawsuit with Fulton County in June, in which Montgomery County agreed to pay Fulton County $450,000, with $225,000 up front and the rest by the end of 2020. 

Santabarbara contends that as a result of the additional costs incurred, Montgomery County had to raise property taxes, which have hit Amsterdam taxpayers the hardest.

His press release on Thursday said it was wrong for Montgomery County to increase its tax levy, hitting the city of Amsterdam residents with an 8.7 percent tax rate hike. Amsterdam is already in financial straits, he noted.

But Ossenfort countered that the tax levy increase for the city of Amsterdam was due to the city's equalization rate falling from 75 percent to 66.67 percent, a measure of the gap between assessed property values and the actual sales price of property. Ossenfort said the drop in the equalization rate is the responsibility of the city. He said the city will get an increase in its share of sales tax collected in the county due to the increase in its property values that should more than make up for the increase in the garbage tipping fee. 

Santabarbara's press release also claimed that Ossenfort has refused to provide his office with public documents pertaining to the controversy.

"I’ve asked our state comptroller to help look into this further and I would hope the county executive will be more cooperative in providing information about how this all went wrong," he said.

Ossenfort shot back with a statement accusing Santabarbara of politicizing the issue: "I think it’s time the assemblyman spent more time doing his job defending us from NYC special interests that crush our upstate communities, rather than issuing cheap political press releases."

The controversy over the failed 10-year intermunicipal agreement for garbage disposal with Fulton County was first revealed to the public in June 2018 when Fulton County terminated the deal after only 4 1/2 years.

The intermunicipal agreement allowed Montgomery County to use Fulton County's landfill, paying a reduced price of $37.95 per ton in 2018. Fulton County accused Montgomery County of taking in waste from other counties, charging those garbage haulers Montgomery County's tipping fee of $72.50 and pocketing the difference, raking up an alleged $2 million profit over the course of the deal since 2014.

After Fulton County terminated the agreement, Montgomery County filed a $2 million lawsuit alleging Fulton County had violated the intermunicipal contract by ending it early.

Montgomery County was forced to increase its garbage tipping fee $8.50 per ton, from $72.50 to $81 per ton, to pay for a new contract with its garbage hauler, GottaDo Contracting, to take the waste to the Seneca Meadows landfill.

In January, Montgomery County inked a deal with GottaDo to haul its garbage to Seneca Meadows, with tipping fees set at $29.77 for 2019, $30.36 per ton for 2020 and $30.96 per ton for 2021. When hauling transportation costs are added to the tipping fees, the cost per ton for Montgomery County is around $80.

The increase in Montgomery County's tipping fee will jack up costs for city of Amsterdam residents by an estimated $50,000 to $70,000. 

During the legal dispute with Fulton County, Ossenfort said Montgomery County did come out ahead with a 'net positive to the county budget' during the duration of the agreement, taking in more money in tipping fees than it cost to run the county's transfer station, but was never intentionally "profiting" from the agreement.' He said the extra revenue was put into reserves and used for repair and maintenance of the county's transfer stations, including replacement of a $100,000 scale at one of the transfer stations. 

Ossenfort said he believes Fulton County officials were always aware some waste from outside of Montgomery County was being disposed of through Montgomery County's transfer stations. 

"I believe that somehow along the way Fulton County came to believe that we somehow were pursuing out-of-county waste and that was never the case," Ossenfort said.

Garbage from Montgomery County increased each of the four years of the agreement, starting with 35,536 tons in 2014, then 48,049 in 2015, 46,695 in 2016 and 53,044 in 2017. From January to May of 2018, there were 18,880 tons of garbage hauled from Montgomery County to Fulton County. 

A June 18, 2018 press release from Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead stated Fulton County officials first discovered the out-of-county waste in the fall of 2017, attempted to negotiate with Montgomery County for "several months" but then saw that Montgomery County was still bringing in out-of-county waste. It then terminated the agreement.

Santabarbara has requested Montgomery County turn over documents he said he believes will shed light on what happened between the two counties. His Aug. 2 letter to Ossenfort requested these documents: 
• The lawsuits filed in state Supreme Court pertaining to the dispute between the counties
• The $450,000 settlement agreement between the counties
• A list of any environmental violations incurred by Montgomery County related to the out-of-county waste disposed of with Fulton County 
• all garbage waste hauling contracts Montgomery County had during the four-year period it was disposing of waste at Fulton County's landfill 
• The county's new contract to dispose of waste at Seneca Meadows landfill
• Documents that would show the authorization of county funds spent to cover the increased tipping fee costs incurred by the county from June 2018 to when Montgomery County raised the tipping fee in 2019
• Documents showing all of Montgomery County's communications with local municipalities about the garbage hauling cost increase after Fulton County ended the agreement .

Santabarbara said Ossenfort refused to comply with his document request, which he said should have the same force as a formal New York state Freedom of Information Law request. He said he's spoken with Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, sent him a letter detailing his investigation into the garbage issue, and is confident DiNapoli will probe the issue.

Ossenfort said he attempted to respond to Santabarbara's letter by telephone, but Santabarbara never returned his calls. 

"When I received his letters, I called his offices numerous times to discuss the issue with him. The assemblyman could not be bothered to call me back. If there's a time he would like to discuss this issue, I would be happy to discuss it with him," Ossenfort said. 

Santabarbara said his staff did call Ossenfort's office, but the calls did not result in progress on his document request. 

Mayor Michael Villa said he has been put in a difficult position by the dispute between Santabarbara and Ossenfort. He said both officials have worked well with his administration and he hopes to continue to have good relationships with them. He said he doesn't have a position on whether the comptroller should investigate the garbage dispute. "That's up to the comptroller," Villa said.

 


 

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