Janesville City Council could close or sell landfill

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Marcia Nelesen
Friday, April 25, 2014

JANESVILLE--The Janesville City Council might sell or even close its landfill on Black Bridge Road because revenues no longer cover the cost of operations.

Last year, Operations Director John Whitcomb said the landfill wasn't to blame for the looming deficit in the sanitation fund. He said deficits were the result of residential garbage pickup fees not covering the cost of collecting trash.

Collection fees were increased, and this year they cover the cost of trash collection.

“Now, the focus is the landfill is not covering its costs,” Whitcomb said.

In January, the city lost one of its larger customers, Sherman Sanitation, when Sherman was purchased by a company that owns its own landfill.

Waste haulers like Sherman Sanitation pay the city to dump trash into the landfill.

The Janesville City Council in a closed meeting earlier this year directed staff to seek options for the landfill's future. Options include selling or closing the landfill.

The city Thursday published proposals to test the private sector for interest in the landfill operations. The city would entertain any suggestions, including leasing, Whitcomb said.

Any changes hopefully would not affect city residents, Whitcomb said.

A city council decision is expected in mid to late summer in advance of drafting the 2015 city budget.

Until this year, the landfill was a break-even or profitable operation within the sanitation fund, according to a city release.

For many years, landfill revenues subsidized all or a portion of garbage collection costs.

Since 2008, however, the tons of waste hauled to the landfill dropped 53 percent, and revenues fell 37 percent. During the same time, operating expenses rose 28 percent.

Causes of the drop in garbage volume included the recession and stiffer competition in the regional marketplace for waste hauling and disposal, Whitcomb said.

The city council could delay a decision and see if garbage volumes pick up.

“I've not had a lot of luck finding much more (garbage) out there,” Whitcomb said.

Companies often are locked into years-long contracts with landfills.

Closing the landfill would save more than $10 million in future borrowing through 2023, Whitcomb has said.

Whitcomb didn't think customers would see much difference in service if the city no longer owned a landfill. Few Wisconsin cities own landfills.

The city would hope to negotiate with any new owner a reasonable disposal price for trash collected by the city's curbside service, Whitcomb said. He hopes to keep the compost and demolition landfill areas open.

Garbage pickup costs could increase if the city closes the landfill and then must haul waste to another landfill, he said.

Whitcomb doesn't foresee any scenario in which the city would no longer offer garbage pickup.

“The objective would be, if that property were to change hands, that the residents in the community here hopefully won't even notice the difference,” Whitcomb said.

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