Taking out the trash

Posted: Sunday, February 27, 2011

When borough Mayor Dave Carey began presenting some ideas on paying for the needed solid waste transfer facility in Homer earlier this month, we were at first a little puzzled why proposing some sort of voter-approved bond wasn't on his list.

This is, after all, a capital project. Government entities don't usually like to pay for capital projects out of operating budgets.

After talking it over with the mayor and some assembly members, we can understand the reluctance to ask voters to pass bonds for the $12 million facility. Still, we believe the discussion should at least be on the table.

Here's the issue. The borough, which is by state law responsible for handling solid waste, has through 2013 to close its last landfill in Homer, and convert it to a transfer site. All waste from the Peninsula is now collected at the central landfill in Soldotna. The deadline comes because a state Department of Environmental Conservation permit expires.

On the surface, this looks like a cut-and-dried $12 million bill we've got on our hands this year. And it's got to be covered within a balanced budget submitted by the mayor to the assembly in just a couple of months.

The mayor's plan, in a nutshell, is to cobble together a mix of funding sources -- maybe some from the state, maybe some from our savings (now standing at about $19 million) and maybe some from one-time cuts to other programs.

What the mayor is shooting for is to deliver a balanced budget to the assembly. And that means working with what's known. There are other "maybes" out there -- getting a waiver from the state or possibly splitting the project up over two years. But Carey can't depend on those options right now.

Bonding would be another "maybe," and we think there are good reasons to add it to the discussion.

Bonds are the preferred method for funding capital projects. Passing a bond would allow us to leave our savings account alone and maybe not have to rob some programs, even if it would be for just a year.

The mayor and some assembly members have legitimate doubts as to whether voters would pass a bond measure. Carey says we'll have to ask voters to approve another bond soon for more school roof repairs. School bonds are easier for the electorate to swallow than they are for a project that only appears to benefit one segment of the population.

But we'd remind voters that waste management is a responsibility for the entire borough. Trying to divvy up trash collection into independent service areas would end up prohibitively expensive.

If the project could be parceled out over a couple of years, that gives voters enough time to weigh in on a bond issue. It gives us another option for addressing this responsibility.

And a postscript: For all the virtues concerning recycling, as a practical consideration, it's simply way more expensive than what we're doing now. And we already know that taxpayers aren't happy about paying any higher taxes.

In short: Let's look at all options, including floating bonds, to address our growing waste problem.

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