Solid Waste Authority Discusses Finances; Recycling Could End
According to the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority’s executive director, the authority could be closing its doors on its recycling program by 2018, if the authority does not make improvements financially.
More than 300,000 pounds of recycling were collected thanks to the WCSWA’s program from July 2015 to July 2016. This included 225,512.5 pounds of recyclables collected at Saturday recycling and 91,512.5 pounds of recyclables collected from the schools and other miscellaneous sources.
Per the authority’s request, Executive Director Terri Tyler provided the authority with a 2016-2017 draft budget, at a special meeting held Thursday, Aug. 25 meeting. Tyler estimated that from landfill tipping fees, monies from the solid waste management board, and grant income, the authority would take in approximately $105,836. Using that amount, Tyler budgeted the authority’s general expenditures for the fiscal year.
Tyler did not budget for payment to the authority’s former attorney Silas Taylor, nor for a study the authority had previously authorized from Downstream Strategies.
As for the Downstream Strategies expenditure, it was noted at July’s authority meeting that the authority had previously agreed to allow Mark Glass, from Downstream Strategies – an environmental consulting firm – write a report on Lackawnna Transport Company’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. LTC is the owner and operator of Wetzel County Landfill.
The rationale for the Downstream Strategies report was to educate the authority and public “about Lackawanna’s permit for the landfill.” The cost of the report was $7,850. Yet, at the time the report was authorized, Lackawanna’s permit had already been approved for another five years.
At Thursday’s meeting, Tyler noted that she had spoken to the Authority’s accountant concerning the 2016-2017 budget. For instance, income from the tipping fees was estimated using last year’s figures, due to the fluctuation of tipping fees.
Tyler said she did not include items on the budget, such as the sign the authority had previously considered purchasing. The tentative budget also does not include building improvements. The authority will not be able to apply for additional grant money until next year 2017. These funds will become available in January 2018.
Tyler said the authority would no longer need funds for recycling of electronics, due to a ban that has been lifted by the state legislature. The removal of this ban, on July 1, means that citizens can now place items such as computers and televisions for regular garbage pickup.
Unlike the 2015-2016 year, the authority also will have no need to submit FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. Tyler reported that these FOIAs were requested by the former chairman of the solid waste authority, Bill Hughes.
Also, Tyler said funds will not be available for community cleanups and the authority will not conduct those next year.
However, “If we keep paying Silas (Attorney Taylor) $2,000 a month, in May of 2018, we are done. We don’t have anymore money,” Tyler said, recommending the authority cut payments to Taylor and Downstream Strategies to $500 a month.
At the August meeting of the authority, after an executive session, the authority had voted to pay Taylor for services he had rendered. At its July meeting, the authority had decided to delay paying Taylor, until there was successful review of Taylor’s invoices.
Throughout the past few months, the authority has debated as to who exactly had authorized Taylor’s services, which included an intervention in a case Lackawanna Transport Company’s case before the Public Service Commission. LTC had filed an application with the PSC to build a special cell for drilling waste.
In March, the PSC granted LTC’s application. However, former chairman Hughes is currently being sued in federal court by LTC.
The complaint against Hughes claims he used his position as the authority’s chairman to “intervene, for his own personal reasons, but purportedly on behalf of the Authority, in proceedings before the Public Service Commission of West Virginia” without the authority’s approval.
As to paying Attorney Taylor, Chairman Cochran questioned Thursday if the authority’s loyalties “lie with the people of Wetzel County, or do they lie with Silas Taylor?”
“Recycling is the most positive thing we do, and I think we need to do everything we can to keep it,” he said. “I think we need to go find money somewhere to do that,” he added.
Authority member Kelly Nelsen said if the authority quits paying Downstream Strategies and Silas Taylor, or reduces the amount of payment, “all we are doing is kicking the can down the road.”
Authority member Mike Durig said the authority is obligated to pay the balances. “The more we stretch it out, the harder it’ll be.”
“I’d just like to pay it,” he said, adding, “we are at his mercy right now.”
“What if after you leave for work one morning, I come by and rip your shrubbery out. I replace it… you said, ‘I didn’t ask you to do it,’ but the bill is $20,000,” Cochran said, alluding that the authority did not authorize Taylor’s work.
“No one stood up and said not to do it,” Authority Member Daniel Witschey responded.
Cochran argued that the bills were being hid from the authority.
Tyler said the authority’s current legal counsel, Ben Freeman from the attorney general’s office, has suggested the authority only pay Taylor $500 a month.
“I don’t have a vote in this,” Tyler said. “I am just trying to show you guys the numbers… I think we’ve done a lot of good. The recycling program is a good thing. I’ve fought for it since the day it started. I would really hate to see it go away. I think there would be a lot of upset people in this county.”
“There’s not one person here who doesn’t think it is a good idea,” Nelsen noted.
“If it is between paying the recycling program and paying Silas, I am sorry, I am voting for the recycling program. But like I said, I don’t have a vote. I am showing you guys the numbers. If you have questions on the numbers, let me know,” Tyler explained
“How would we be out of money (in 2018), when we’d still get tipping fees?” Witschey argued.
“To say close the doors is a bit of a stretch… We are still going to have tipping fees. Obviously we will not have a recycling program and not pay an executive director,” he said.
Nelsen suggested the authority not spend as much on advertising. “We have $6,000 for advertising. That is almost six percent of the budget.”
“If you want to cut it, we can cut it,” Tyler responded but added that she had six or seven calls that week alone about recycling.
“Why not we try to trim the budget now and extend it?” Nelsen said, suggesting each authority member take a copy of the budget draft home for further evaluation.
The authority further discussed trying to recoup some of the funds spent on Taylor’s services.
“I can tell you what people have said to me,” Tyler noted. “They would like to see the board take some kind of action to show the residents that the board didn’t approve of what happened.”
“Three years ago, people didn’t know about the board. No one showed up to meetings. No one cared. Nobody knows about nothing, and now it is… I don’t know,” Durig said.
“Then we didn’t have money,” Cochran responded. “We didn’t have money to spend on what it got spent on,” Cochran added.
“We are going to be back there,” Witschey responded.
“I think we have an obligation to the citizens and tax payers to take some kind of action to try and recover some of this money,” Cochran said.
Durig and Witschey noted that the funds recovered would just be spent to pay the lawyer.
Cochran had suggested that approximately $70,000 was not authorized by the board.
“Every month you came to these meetings… In that period of $70,000, at what point did you go, ‘Wait a minute…’?” Nelsen questioned.
Cochran said he would’ve questioned the motives early on in the $70,000, adding “Terri (Tyler) started asking questions before me, and she was made to go sit in the bathroom during executive sessions.”
Cochran further informed them that the authority didn’t get to see itemized invoices from Taylor until September 2015.
“Was there ever a vote taken to stop this?” Nelsen said
“In January of this year we finally voted to get it to stop, but it wasn’t the first time the motion was made,” Cochran responded.
Cochran later gave the following statement to the Chronicle:
“I started questioning this whole PSC business in December 2014,” Cochran said. “I journeyed to Charleston with (former authority chairman) Bill Hughes to meet with the two lawyers representing the Authority,” continued Cochran. “I came away from that meeting wondering just what the Authority’s case was, and I had a sick feeling in my gut that the lawyers didn’t have a handle on this.”
The authority ended up voting Thursday night to authorize Cochran to confer with the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office regarding the negotiation of a settlement with Taylor.
The next meeting of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority will be tomorrow night – Thursday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m.