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Waste District exhausts surplus, faces shortfall

The Harrison County Solid Waste District informed the Harrison County Council Monday night that by the end of the year, the agency will not have sufficient funds to operate.
‘We are going to have to seek some other source of funding in order to continue to operate,’ Anna Morris, director of the district, told the Harrison County Council.
Solid waste operates annually on a budget of about $400,000.
Morris said the district would need $70,000 before Oct. 31 to stay open this year and would need $100,000 extra each year beginning in 2008.
‘That would keep our budget balanced,’ she said.
The solid waste district received a portion of the county’s CAGIT funds ‘ money from county income taxes ‘ from 1994 until 1998 which averaged $120,000 a year.
During that time, the district built up a surplus, which in 1998 and 1999 exceeded $1 million. The agency stopped receiving CAGIT funds in 1998, which Morris said was due to the surplus.
Since that time, the district has exhausted that surplus.
The district bought a $600,000 building in Harrison County Industrial Park in 2005. The county covered half of that cost while the district paid for the remaining $300,000.
Currently, solid waste receives about half of its funds from a portion of the county’s property tax revenue. The balance of the income comes from the sale of recyclables and fees associated with some of the items they accept, like tires.
Morris said the district is operating as cheaply as possible. Aside from the main facility, solid waste has three other manned recycling stations and has a staff of seven. In 2006, the district purchased a baler which has increased the value of recyclables by 30 percent.
The council discussed the shortfall of funds at great length Monday night and explored the possibilities available to increase funding for solid waste.
‘I think waste management is just as important as highway,’ Councilman Gordon Pendleton said.
Council chairman Carl (Buck) Mathes said the council had three options for generating the $100,000 a year solid waste needs to operate.
Mathes said the council could either give the district CAGIT money again, take it from riverboat funds or they could approve an increase of the district’s property tax levy.
Solid waste could raise their tax rate on their own for anything less than five percent. However, the proposed option would raise the rate about 45 percent, and solid waste would need approval and a resolution by the council before the rate could be increased. The current rate is a little more than one cent per $100 of assessed valuation. If the council raises that rate to create an additional $100,000 per year, that rate would increase to a little more than two cents.
The council has not decided which option they will choose for raising funds for future years.
‘We really have no option for this year (the $70,000) other than decide where we need to take the funds,’ Mathes said. ‘I would suggest to the commissioners to take this out of some riverboat account.’
Councilman Chris Timberlake had some other concerns other than solid waste’s shortfall in funding.
Timberlake asked Morris if solid waste could do anything about the littering along S.R. 135 near the Interstate 64 interchange.
‘Frankly, it’s embarrassing,’ Timberlake said, adding that since the county is trying to promote tourism, the littering along the interchange did not reflect positively on the county.
Morris said the district did have an adopt-a-highway program, which utilizes volunteers to clean roadways. However, S.R. 135, at the interchange, is a state highway outside solid waste’s jurisdiction.
Volunteer firefighters across the county also attended the meeting Monday night fearing an appropriation the council will consider at the end of the month could cause them to have less riverboat funds available.
A group of about 15 volunteer firefighters attended the meeting to voice their opinion about Harrison Township Trustee Cecil Trobaugh’s request for funds to construct a fire station addition.
Rick Kerr, president of the Harrison County Fire Chief’s Association, told council members that in recent years, all requests for county funding had to be approved by the chief’s association before going before the commissioners and council.
‘What Mr. Trobaugh brought to you, he has not brought before the chief’s association,’ Kerr told the council. ‘I’m not saying what Mr. Trobaugh is doing is wrong here, but it’s not what the commissioners have said in the past,’ he added.
Kerr said the chief’s association had already met twice this year and has collectively decided to try to get funds for a new fire station for Boone Township Fire District.
The district has been trying to secure funding for the fire station since 2005 and was recently turned down for a state grant which they were told was due to the county’s influx of riverboat revenue.
Kerr said Boone’s fire station did not have a place to store equipment or a room to train volunteer firefighters.
Trobaugh has told commissioners in the past that as a trustee charged with providing fire protection for his township, he did not think he needs the chief’s association approval, especially since he is not a member. His request has been before the commissioners four times before. They approved $200,000 of the original $300,000 request last week.
Commissioner chairman James Goldman said the chief’s association is correct.
‘There was an agreement with the past board that all requests had to come from the chief’s association,’ Goldman said.
‘It adds validity to the fire chief’s association in my opinion,’ he said, adding that it also helps prioritize spending for the fire departments.
As chair, Goldman’s vote wasn’t necessary when the issue came before the commissioners last week. Commissioners J.R. Eckart and Terry Miller, a majority on the three-member board, approved the funding request.
Goldman said there had never been a written agreement between the chief’s association, and there has never been a certain amount set for their spending.
‘It’s been about half a million a year,’ Goldman said.
That funding could be less if Trobaugh’s appropriation is approved.
‘I basically see it as treating one fire department better than another,’ Goldman said.
Some council members were confused as to why the appropriation was before them if Trobaugh did not follow the rules the commissioners had verbally set in the past. Mathes told the firefighters that the council’s hands were tied, and that when an appropriation came before the council, he took that to mean the commissioners supported the request.
‘We’ve got to vote on this one way or another,’ he said.
The council expects to vote on the $200,000 request on March 26.
In other matters Monday night, the council:
‘ Approved $104,000 for the first of two installments of the operating budget of Harrison County Community Services;
‘ Decided to take $42,750 for Deputy Prosecutor Lauren Wheatley’s salary out of pre-trial diversion funds instead of county general or riverboat revenue. The appropriation will be re-advertised and voted on at the council’s next meeting on March 26.
‘ Approved $5,000 for the Harrison County Advisory Plan Commission for litigation expenses for an ongoing lawsuit.
‘ Approved $200,000 for Bridge 68 on Zollman Road.