After two years of operating in the red, the Yuma County Board of Supervisors is considering charging a user fee for the use of the county’s transfer stations.
The shortfall is due to more customers who are bringing more trash and expenses are increasing, according to Joshua Scott, director of public works.
Projections indicate that even more customers with more-than-double the trash will use the transfer stations in the next 10 years, causing the deficit to increase.
The supervisors worry that fees will result in more trash being dumped in the desert. To avoid that, the supervisors are leaning towards charging a small convenience fee per vehicle as a way to reduce the deficit.
On May 3, following a January discussion, Scott presented information on the costs of solid waste operations and potential fees for the use of the transfer sites and sought direction from the supervisors.
Scott had initially proposed three options to reduce the shortfall: reduce services, increase funding from the general fund or charge customers a fee, which has the potential for a self-sustainable operation. With a fee, only users would pay for the use of the service vs. having it subsidized by all taxpayers.
The supervisors nixed the reduction of services, noting that taxpayers have come to expect a certain level of service. They agreed that charging a small convenience fee would be the most acceptable option, which would not cover all of the cost and still require money from the general fund, but it would allow the county to start addressing the shortfall, which was $85,355 in 2019/20.
In the end, the supervisors settled on two possible flat fees of $5 or $7, with the final decision to be made after getting input from the public at a future hearing.
Supervisor Darren Simmons expressed concern that a fee would further encourage illegal dumping in the desert. He noted that trash is often found in the desert around the Foothills area, along Hank’s Highway behind the Mesa del Sol subdivision and in the East County region.
However, Chairman Tony Reyes noted that the county originally opened the transfer stations as a way to stop illegal dumping, however, it continued even though their use is free. Reyes suggested enforcing a fine of $50 or $100 for illegal dumping so residents will have to choose between paying a user fee of $5 or $7 or the fine. The problem, Simmons noted, is that dumpers often go unnoticed and law enforcement can’t be everywhere to catch them. The supervisors agreed that they would have to rely on residents to report illegal dumping so then law enforcement can investigate the cases. However, unless there’s a witness or a person’s name and/or address is found in the trash, it’s hard to find the offenders.
The majority of waste dropped off at the transfer sites is household trash. The county has four sites, staffed by the six technicians, are North Gila, Wellton, Tacna and Dateland. North Gila, the main transfer site, offers free household disposal for trash, green waste, appliances, batteries, electronics waste, rocks and concrete, tires and metals. North Gila also has a waste tire facility.
The county transfers the trash to the landfill and pays fees to dispose of it. There are two landfills in the county. South Yuma County Landfill charges $30.50 per ton with a $12 minimum. Suburban Sanitation, owned by Republic Services, charges $15 for city residents and $66.18 for county residents for a pickup-size load.
The county currently pays $220,256 in disposal fees and expects the cost to go up to $486,765 in 2030/31, not counting handling and hauling costs.
The bulk of the dropped-off waste, other than household trash, is green waste such as tree and plant cuttings and trimmings. The problem is telling the difference between residential and commercial contractors who dump green waste, construction materials, rocks, concrete, decorative tiles, etc., at the transfer site to avoid paying at the commercial landfill.
The transfer site took in 140,000 tires last year. The number of appliances received each year keeps going up. The county is trying to redirect appliances to recyclers by telling customers that recyclers pay for appliances. The county also tells residents that they can get credit for returned batteries at certain stores.
The county expects about 71,500 customers this fiscal year and the transfer of 18.1 million pounds to the landfill. The county projects a car count of 106,000 and 29.5 million pounds of trash in the next 10 years.
Yuma County is the only one in the state that offers free disposal of solid waste.