BERLIN — The city council spent much of its Monday night meeting discussing the city’s response to a letter relating to taxes and fees for the local regional landfill from businessman Theodore Lacasse.
The Mount Carberry landfill, operated by Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District accepts trash from Berlin and other North Country communities, and Lacasse questioned whether financial details of the arrangement are fair to city residents.
With inauguration day just a week away, the council had a light work session agenda for the evening.
Lacasse wrote that he feels the city manager should be more involved in overseeing the property abatement process.
Specifically, Lacasse said he understood that since Mount Carberry landfill began operations, the city has granted more than $1 million in property tax abatements to abutting property owners.
He said the abatements have been granted because of noise or odors from the landfill. He also pointed out that heavy truck and trailers that haul municipal solid waste to the landfill damage Hutchins Street. But, he said, the Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District, which includes most area towns, does not pay taxes to help repair Hutchins Street.
Lacasse said he is asking that Wheeler start negotiating with AVRRDD to eliminate so-called tipping fees charged to the city for municipal solid waste it deposits at the landfill.
He also questioned whether the district is subsidizing out-of-district towns and cities that truck their waste to Mount Carberry.
Wheeler said he had Assessing Coordinator Bryan Chevarie research abatements related to the landfill and found no abatements were granted until tax year 2018. Six property owners were granted abatements totaling $22,900 in valuation and $899 in abated tax dollars.
The city is due to have a complete revaluation this year so figures may change.
Mayor Paul Grenier said the city has a board of assessors that oversees the assessment and abatement process. He said it is not appropriate to have the city manager making decision on abatements.
The city has plans to reconstruct the section of Hutchins Street from the East Side Arterial to Chapman’s Garage and Grenier said he suggested at AVRRDD’s budget hearing last month that the district consider providing some funding for that work. He estimated as much as 25 percent of the traffic on that road is traveling to the landfill.
No commitment has been made by the district but Grenier said he feels there is a recognition that AVRRDD has some responsibility there. Grenier sits on the AVRRDD board as the representative of the Coos County Commission while Councilor Mike Rozek is Berlin’s representative on the board.
Responding to Lacasse’s suggestion that the district should eliminate tipping fees for Berlin, Rozek noted that most of the landfill is in the unincorporated place of Success. He said only a small piece is within Berlin. He also pointed out that the district just reduced tipping fees from $67 to $60 a ton for its member communities.
“It is expensive to maintain that landfill,” Rozek explained, describing the equipment, testing, legal and engineering staff time required.
Rozek said the city is lucky the landfill is close and the city doesn’t incur huge hauling costs to get its solid waste there. In his opinion, he said the staff does an excellent job running the landfill.
Councilor Roland Theberge said he understands the Bethlehem landfill is closing, leaving only two landfills left in the state including Mount Carberry. He asked if Berlin can expect to take more municipal solid waste if Bethlehem closes.
Grenier said Casella in Bethlehem is running out of space and if it doesn’t get a requested permit, it will close soon. He said when AVRRDD was formed, it took out-of-district waste to help pay off the bonds it took to purchase the facility.
He said the big bonds will be paid off in two more years and the district will have some options to consider. It can continue to accept out-of-district waste to further reduce the tipping fees of member communities or it reduce the amount of waste coming from outside the district to extend the life of the landfill. Grenier said his guess is the district will accept solid waste from other North Country communities but will not accept waste from outside the region.
Grenier and members of the council said they appreciated Lacasse bringing his questions to the city so they could provide accurate answers.
They agreed that Wheeler will put together a letter to Lacasse that the council can review next week.
Wheeler handed out the proposed budget schedule for fiscal 2021. It calls for Wheeler to present the city manager’s budget to the council on March 2.
The council would meet with department heads in twice-a-week meetings during March to put together a proposed budget for the May 14 public hearing.
The schedule calls for a final budget to be approved on June 15.