County officials are pitching major changes to the way people are charged for dumping large loads at Butte-Silver Bow’s landfill and for bringing in material that isn’t covered or secured.
Among other things, larger loads that go beyond household trash would be charged by the ton instead of by the yard — something already done at most large landfills in Montana and even at some smaller ones.
Instead of trying to fine people $100 for driving up with uncovered loads — a cumbersome, time-consuming process — they would be charged a $10 fee on the spot for getting in to dump the material.
And to eliminate confusion and loopholes, officials want to clarify county ordinances on what constitutes “normal” household waste and what goes beyond that is therefore charged tipping fees.
A new, fourth cell to hold waste from Butte and nearby areas will be needed at the landfill by 2020 at a cost now projected at $3.7 million. But officials say there’s more than cost behind the proposed changes.
The landfill was built in 1993, and this is the first time everything has been re-evaluated since then. The changes are as much about fairness, efficiency and practicality as anything else, they say.
“We are not here to make a profit, we are here to serve the community and stay in the black with all we have to do,” said Glen Rafish, who oversees the landfill as the county's solid waste services manager.
He will present the proposed changes to commissioners Wednesday night. The council would have to hold at least one public hearing and go through several procedural steps before anything is approved.
But at least one commissioner, Jim Fisher, already thinks the changes make sense.
“I think some of these things are long overdue,” Fisher, who is chairman of the council’s Public Works Committee, said Tuesday.
All parcels in Butte-Silver Bow with a house or other livable “unit,” such as a duplex or apartments, pay an annual fee of $25.37 for access to the landfill. A duplex would pay twice that fee while apartment buildings would be charged for each apartment.
Most residents in Butte pay separately for their trash to be collected each week, but the $25.37 access fee allows them to take their own loads of additional household garbage or junk and yard waste to the landfill all year without paying additional fees there.
But there is confusion as to what constitutes normal household waste.
One section of Butte’s municipal code says the access fee allows residents to have their collected garbage dumped at the landfill, and also any “extraordinary solid waste” generated by that person.
But another section says solid waste not generated in the “normal course” of operation of a “commercial or industrial user or the residential user of property” is special waste subjected to tipping fees.
Few would consider a torn-up driveway of concrete or a demolished house as a “normal course” of residential operations, officials say, but some landfill users challenge those assumptions.
"It needs to be clarified," Fisher said, because "there are some people who abuse the system."
County Attorney Eileen Joyce is working with other county officials on suggesting ways to clarify the ordinances so everyone is treated the same.
When fees are assessed, officials want to join most large to mid-sized landfills in Montana and charge by the ton instead of the yard. The fee here would be $25 per ton for all loads exceeding 1,000 pounds.
Charging by yards means a lot of “guestimating” size, Rafish says. Yardage that is underestimated means lost revenue for the landfill, while yardage overestimated means customers are overcharged.
“Measuring a box is different than measuring the material in the box,” he said.
Some might pay more under the proposed change, he said, but some might pay less.
He recalled the time a 32-foot trailer came through with a load of Styrofoam. Though it took up a lot of space that was charged by the yard, it didn’t weigh much.
Under the proposed change, Rafish said, “It’s going to be fair for everyone who comes through.”
The proposed “fee” instead of a fine for having uncovered loads is borne out of practicality as much as anything.
The goal is the same — getting people to cover and secure their loads so materials don’t blow out.
“In the summer, we clean this road three or four times a week,” Rafish said of Browns Gulch Road, which runs by the landfill. “And if there is a mess here, think about the mess in town.”
But landfill employees don’t have authority to write and enforce tickets for violations, Rafish said.
To go after fines, they must photograph the unsecured load, get license plate and personal information and present that with an explanation to the Community Enrichment Department, which does have enforcement powers, he said. But that department must still present tickets and make a case to a city judge before someone is forced to pay.
By changing it to a $10 fee, Rafish said, they can charge on the spot and still get the message across to violators.
The council meets at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the courthouse at 155 W. Granite St.