Transfer station still a moneymaker

Matt Roche • May 17, 2019 at 2:00 PM

Contrary to published reports, the Huron County Transfer Station is not losing money.

It continues to generate a surplus after all of the bills are paid, building up a reservoir that’s available when unexpected costs arise.

Closing the transfer station at this time would not be in the county’s best interests. Even if it were, such a move in the near future would be nearly impossible.

Those are the highlights of a presentation that Pete Welch gave to the Huron County commissioners at their meeting Thursday morning.

The transfer station, located at the former county landfill on Townline Road 151 in Greenfield Township near Willard, is the place where garbage trucks take trash and recyclables collected throughout Huron County. The trucks pay a “tipping fee” of $54 per ton when dumping trash there. Transfer station employees then load that trash into trailers, which are hauled away to a landfill in another county.

The tipping fee covers the costs of sending the trash elsewhere, as well as fees that go to the Huron County Solid Waste District, Ohio EPA and Greenfield Township. The tipping fee also provides an operating revenue, which is used for running the transfer station, monitoring and maintaining the former landfill and operating recycling programs, according to Welch, who serves as the county’s director of operations. In addition, a small percentage goes into a fund earmarked for equipment purchases and repairs.

The transfer station has been in the news recently because of a pending lawsuit pitting Erie County against Huron County over trash disposal.

Welch’s presentation came on the heels of an article and editorial published this week in the Sandusky Register suggesting “up to $1.1 million annually” could be saved if Huron County closed the transfer station. The Register article also stated the county is “operating in the red with no end in sight.”

“We are not running a deficit,” Commissioner Terry Boose said.


One-year anomaly

A chart listing a six-year summary of revenue verses expenses appears to be the basis for the Register’s assumption that the county’s trash disposal operations are losing money.

The chart, provided by the county auditor’s office, reveals the “land fill fund” generated a yearly surplus from 2013 through 2017, going from $115,616 to $553,463 in the “ending cash” category.

In 2018, the chart showed an income of $2,174,889 and expenses of $2,432,754, reducing the cash carryover to $295,598 heading into 2019.

Coincidentally, 2018 was when Huron County ended the agreement that made Erie County responsible for hauling away trash from the transfer station and taking it to the Erie County landfill in Milan Township — a decision that led to the lawsuit.

“In 2018 we spent more than we took in,” Welch said.

What the chart didn’t show, however, was the explanation.

“Last year, we had a major expenditure for the landfill,” Commissioner Skip Wilde said. “We have a reserve out there for those sort of things.”

“As of today” the transfer station continues to make money, he added.

At the end of April, Welch said, transfer station revenue was ahead of expenses by about $25,000 for the year.

“We want it (the transfer station) to be self-sufficent and not tapping into the general fund,” Commissioner Joe Hintz said.

From all indications, it continues to be.

The chart from the auditor’s office shows figures for only one of the two funds into which the tipping fees are placed. Both funds are designed to support transfer station operations and annual landfill monitoring and maintenance activities, recycling programs and outstanding bonds. Combined, there was a carryover of $542,797 heading into this year.

“If we were losing money today, then I’d be up here asking you guys for a rate change,” Welch told the commissioners. “I’m not doing that.”

Because the transfer station operation is a government enterprise and not a private business, the goal is not to make as much money as possible, Welch said. Rather, the goal is to “pay our bills and put money away” for needs that might arise.

“We are not making money because we’re not supposed to be but we want a healthy carryover,” Wilde added. “We are being very responsible with the funds we get and we are not overcharging.”

“In the future, as costs go up and inflation goes up, you could be looking at a rate increase,” Welch told the commissioners, explaining the “mechanism” in place for eliminating a deficit.


Reasons for keeping station

The commissioners directly said the county would not save up to $1.1 million annually if the transfer station closed.

Ohio flow control laws would allow Huron County to receive some money from the landfills where trash is taken directly, but it would not be the current rate of $54 per ton.

Just how much the county could receive is a key part of the lawsuit, Boose said.

The commissioners said they could not comment on specifics related to the lawsuit.

The Register article listed potential cost savings related to the transfer station’s closing, including the salaries of five full-time employees.

However, the commissioners and Welch said three of those employees would be retained for EPA-required monitoring and maintaining of the closed landfill as well as handling recycling.

“We’re going to be out there maintaining the facility,” Boose said.

“We still have to do recycling,” Hintz added. “Recycling has become very difficult.”

“It’s not a moneymaker,” Wilde added. 

Money generated by EPA-required recycling is the “lowest it’s been in a long, long time,” Boose said. “We used to try to break even with recycling. Now it’s costing us money.”

Money generated by transfer station operations covers the debt incurred with recycling, they said.

Welch and the commissioners also discussed the difficult legal and governmental processes involved in closing the station.

“No matter what, we have to pay off bonds and maintain the landfill,” Boose said.

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