County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach (who did not attend) has criticized the legislature for “lack of oversight” of the trash-collecting and recycling county public authority, suggesting that the $31 million paid by taxpayers in net service fees since 1998 to support the agency may have been wasted. To the contrary, said agency Director Mike Bemis, the RRA is closely supervised by its legislatively appointed board of directors and reports monthly to its legislative committee. Committee Chairman Kevin Roberts of Wallkill has called Auerbach’s criticism uninformed and unwarranted.
Roberts is a former RRA board member and president. “I’ve seen it from both sides,” he said.
Bemis, who succeeded Charlie Shaw as executive director in 2005, told the group that RRA spending increased from $10.5 million in 2009 to a projected $11.7 million next year. The net service fee for next year is projected at $1,380,000, down very slightly from this year’s $1.4 million.
Bemis said the RRA board exercised “tremendous oversight” over the agency. “They have made huge financial decisions,” he said, including bidding out all contracts. “These trends continue,” he said. “We’ve negotiated good deals. We try to be productive. Our safety record is excellent.”
A singular achievement, Bemis said, was increasing the level of recycling from 21 percent in the county in 2005 to 40 percent in 2009. Recycling generates revenues to offset operating expenses, he said.
RRA salaries range from the $117,000 a year paid the director to $44,000 a year for truck drivers.
The net service fee, which is the difference between RRA expenses and revenues, helps reduce the cost of services to taxpayers and keeps the agency competitive, Bemis said. Under a 1992 contract with the county, taxpayers are required to pay the fee. Bemis said that as long as the agency is shipping garbage and sludge to western New York dumps the fee would remain. “If we had a [county] landfill with flow control, there would be no fee, we would be in the black,” he said. “But a judgment was made by the legislature not to site a landfill in the county.”
“One way or another, these services have to be paid for,” longtime RRA attorney Steven Wing said. “There’s a cost there. Nothing is free.”
Agency Comptroller Tim DeGraff was asked what would be the impact on county taxpayers were the agency to eliminate its net service fees. “Increased rates for services,” he replied. DeGraff estimated the net service fee currently costs about $30 a year for each household in the county. It was twice as high in 2006, a trend Bemis mentioned several times.
About a quarter of the agency’s budget goes to debt service to retire some $32 million in bonding taken out in 1992 to close town and city landfills, to build facilities and to buy rolling stock for the agency. Those bonds will be retired in about 20 years.
Dictated by state law, the agency is currently working on a 10-year plan, which Bemis said could include cooperative arrangements with nearby counties.
The agency will conduct its annual household hazardous waste, pharmaceutical waste and electronics collection at agency headquarters at 999 Flatbush Road, near the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 16. Information is available at (845) 336-3336.