Dominick Calsolaro

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Landfill measure's fate still cloudy

Published on 5/5/2010 by the Times Union written by by Jordan Carleo-Evangelist

ALBANY -- City lawmakers left their meeting Wednesday night shrugging their shoulders when asked whether four controversial borrowing measures linked to the Rapp Road landfill will pass on Monday.

"I wouldn't bet my life either way," said Councilman Michael O'Brien, a supporter.

For two months, council leadership has been scrambling to assemble enough support for the bonding ordinances to continue the landfill's expansion, twice watching one fail by a single vote.

A major point of contention remains the city's plan to borrow $18 million to pay for restoration of Pine Bush habitat mandated by the state in return for the expansion permit.

As part of that permit, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is requiring the city to set aside $10 per ton of trash dumped at the facility to fund the work.

Rather than borrowing, some council members believe the city should simply add the fee -- or some variation of it -- on top of the dumping fee already paid by the other cities, towns and private trash haulers who use the landfill, a solution they say will more fairly distribute the burden.

Mayor Jerry Jennings' administration maintains, however, that borrowing is not only a fair way to to pay for the work -- because the city alone reaps the benefit of all the dumping fees paid there -- but it also contends that it frees up the landfill revenue help fund vital city services and mitigate what could be a $20 million budget deficit next year.

Jennings has said a loss of any of the revenue could mean even deeper cuts to city services.

The city has also questioned whether forcing its customers to pay a higher rate --- particularly two private haulers, Allied Waste and County Waste, that have a special lower rate in return for the promise of 300 tons each of cash-producing trash daily -- might drive business away, blowing a bigger hole in the budget.

The road to passage appeared clear Monday, however, when the council members drafted a non-binding resolution that called on the city to aggressively pursue a higher tipping fee from everyone who dumps at the facility.

But on Wednesday, *Councilman Dominick Calsolaro* -- who planned to vote against the bonding anyway -- said the resolution alone is not enough because it doesn't carry the force of law.

Instead, *Calsolaro will introduce an ordinance Monday that would require the city to impose a $5 surcharge on top of the tipping fee, money that should be used to fund the restoration.*

That measure won't be voted on Monday -- and even if it were, it seems unlikely Jennings would sign it.

The bonding ordinances are expected to receive a vote, but it's not clear whether they have enough support to pass.

When Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin, who's been working to bring dissenters into the fold, asked for a poll of who would be voting "yes," several lawmakers appeared reluctant to tip their hands.

Several were angry at the news -- reported earlier in the day on the Times Union's website -- that County Waste said it had already twice offered to increase the tipping fee it pays the city, if Allied, its competitor, would go along as well.

Allied twice refused, according to Jerry Cifor, a principal at Clifton Park-based County Waste.

County Waste currently pays $52.50 to dump in Colonie but just $47.67 in Albany.

While some council members suggested the offer proved that there's room to increase the fee without losing business, others dismissed it as empty bluster -- a meaningless statement by County Waste contingent on something the company knows will never happen.

City officials also questioned why, if County Waste is willing to pay more, its last bid price was so low.

But Saleem Cheeks, a spokesman for the company, insisted the proposal "was and is a genuine offer."

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