The St. Francois County Commission heard a report on the financial issues of the landfill and transfer station outside Desloge when it met in regular session Tuesday in the courthouse annex.
Farmington City Administrator Greg Beavers — a board member of the St. Francois County Environmental Corporation — addressed the commission on the potential financial insolvency of the institution and how the county will have future legal and financial responsibilities if the corporation has to close down.
“The environmental corporation was formed in 1972 by the county commissioners for the purpose of establishing and operating a landfill,” he said. “The property where the landfill sits was deeded to the corporation from the county in 1973 with a reversion clause.”
If the corporation ever fails to meet its obligations of operating the landfill or doing recycling operations, the property reverts back to the county. It’s also a Superfund site, part of the old St. Joe mine property.
“It operated as a landfill pretty profitably, until the mid-1990s, for about 20 years it operated and DNR wanted it closed. So the closure process started.”
Beavers explained the financial issues of closing the landfill due to Missouri DNR regulations and the costs involved that is becoming more difficult to finance.
“There are two (processes) we are talking about,” he said. “One is the closure process and one is the post-closure process. Under DNR regulations they are separate and distinct.
“At the time the closure process started, there were some cash reserves available. There was an agreement that the corporation would pay the closure costs, which they did. The escrow amount was levied at $900,000 at the time to complete the closure. The closure was completed in 1997.
“When the landfill was closed, the county signed a financial assurance instrument with the Missouri DNR and accepted responsibility for the post-closure costs. The corporation has paid those expenses since 1997 through today, so 22 years of a 30-year process.”
The loss of income through the years from companies hauling waste directly to other landfills rather than to the transfer station has created a shortfall in finances.
“As long as we had the revenue to do that, we needed to handle it. There have been a lot of changes through the years. Most notably for us is the diversion of solid waste from the transfer station to the other landfills. Most impactful is that more and more of trash service is migrating to the large corporations.
“CWI, Republic Services and Waste Management, they operate their own landfills. So all that waste, as they get a bigger and bigger share of the market, is bypassing the transfer station, and we operate on those margins. It’s always been a kind of hand-to-mouth kind of operation. We paid the bills as we went along.
He said they have borrowed money for operating expenses, not capital expenses.
“We have debt of $76,000 on an unsecured loan. We have a $50,000 line of credit that is tapped out right now to pay the operating expenses. We have a capital loan on some equipment of about $11,000.
“We lost a large customer back in November or December. Freedom Waste chose to go a different way, directly to a landfill. That was a good customer for us, that was $50,000 a month in revenue. It was $8,000 to $10,000 a month on the profit side for the transfer station. With that loss, we are in pretty financially tight times right now.”
Beavers detailed how the county needs to step in and fund some of the costs to pay for DNR’s requirements for the landfill.
“We took a look at the bills we are paying,” he said. “One is the post-closure expenses. That again, is a county liability. The question for the county is two-part. One, that going forward, they pay those expenses. The second part of our request is that the county reimburse us for at least the last couple of years the expenses that we have incurred in order to overcome our cash shortfall.”
Associate Commissioner Patrick Mullins asked, “If the county refuses to take it over, the state would withhold future funds, correct?”
”The absolute darkest side of the equation, if the corporation would become financially untenable — and the board would decide to fold operations, which we have no intention of doing — we leave some creditors in dire straits,” Beavers said. “The property would revert back to [the county], and you would be responsible for post-closure expenses.”
Beavers stressed that closing the transfer station would have many repercussions for the residents of St. Francois County.
“The worst part of not having the transfer station available to the county, there are a lot of illicit dump sites around the county,” he said. “If we don’t have a convenient way to dispose of waste, it’s not going to be good for our county.
“The three cities in St. Francois County that operate their own trash service: Bonne Terre, Park Hills and Desloge, would have to have a contract hauler haul to a landfill, so their costs would have to go up.”
The St. Francois County Environmental Corporation has already been making attempts at becoming more financially viable, but they do have their limits, according to Beavers.
“We have made some changes to our fee structures,” he said. “We believe that pricing is pretty elastic. How far we can go on a price before people decide that they are going to illicitly dump is unknown.”
Beavers noted that aside from keeping the transfer station financially solvent, the county needs to add new programs at the location to enhance recycling and reduce waste in the county.
“We need to all up the game in St. Francois County on environmental stewardship,” he said. “We need to be running area wide household hazardous waste collection to keep things out of the streams and storm drains.”
In other business, the county commission passed an ordinance authorizing late fees to be assessed on liquor licenses.
County Clerk Kevin Engler addressed the issue saying, “Our problem is that the county liquor license, people have no incentive to get them in on time. The state charges a 100 percent fee if you’re late. What we’re saying is let’s give them 30 days to get it in, if not, we’re charging them a 20 percent fee and then we increase it 10 percent every month after that. They have to have some incentive. The only incentive they have now is to pay last year’s license to get the next year’s.”
Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher asked, “The 20 percent penalty is based on the price of the new license. What is that?”
”It varies,” County Clerk Administrative Assistant Linda Ballentine answered. “A Sunday license for original package is $200 and original package is $100. We charge a clerk fee of $3 for each license. Our most expensive is $506 for some of the resorts.”
Engler interjected, “That’s state mandated. We don’t just make it up.”
Sheriff Dan Bullock added, “In the past, our deputies have went out and notified these people who haven’t paid these licenses, but they have no teeth to it.”
Engler added, ”You can’t even shut them down.”
Bullock answered, ”Correct.”
Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.