Solid Waste Authority To Hold Budget Work Session
The Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority will hold a special budget work session Thursday, Sept. 8.
The authority held a special meeting Aug. 25 to receive a tentative budget prepared by Executive Director Terri Tyler. At that meeting, the authority members had agreed to take the budget home for further consideration. The budget was then placed on the Sept. 1 regular meeting agenda.
When asked for action on the agenda item, at the Sept. 1 meeting, Vice Chairman Larry Edgell had moved that the budget be passed as presented. The remaining authority members did not speak on the issue. Solid Waste Authority Chairman Mark Cochran remarked that a finance committee was established in July and was supposed to structure a budget. “We have a budget here for approval. We have a starting point for discussion.”
After no one spoke Cochran noted, “Is there any discussion? Does anyone have anything to say about this budget? We need some kind of budget. A public entity that doesn’t have a budget is irresponsible. Does anyone think this is a good budget, a bad budget Anyone have anything to say?”
Authority member Mike Durig said he runs a business but doesn’t “get into the budgets.”
Durig noted that the authority doesn’t know what kind of funds it has coming in, or what is coming out.
Authority member Kelly Nelsen suggested the authority not take any action and “look at it for another couple of months.” Nelsen noted that the authority has not operated on a budget for several recent years.
Cochran said, “I think it is incumbent upon us to be responsible and have at least some sort of game plan, some sort of plan for what we want to do with public funds we are responsible for. If we we pass it, it doesn’t mean we have to adhere to it to the penny, but it gives us a deadline, and it shows we are paying attention to what we are doing.”
“Without a budget, we have no guideline.”
Nelsen said he thought there were some things the authority could change about the budget. “We discussed some things we wanted and didn’t want, and we discussed taking it home.”
“That’s right,” Cochran said. “We decided to take it home.”
Cochran said he felt it was irresponsible for the authority to not accept the budget or put it to use. “It’s not cast in stone, but to just leave things floating out there that doesn’t seem to responsible to me either.”
“I can recall that not too many months ago, members of the public admonished the board for not having a budget, and now here is a budget; so why you are reluctant to pass it, I don’t understand,” Cochran said.
Cochran noted that he didn’t know what Nelsen’s position was; he added that he had yet to hear a word from Authority Member Daniel Witschey.
Witschey noted that there was still $28,000 unbudgeted, referencing outstanding debts to Downstream Strategies, an environmental firm; and Silas Taylor, the authority’s former attorney.
“We haven’t cut anything out of general expenses,” Witschey continued.
Executive Director Tyler responded that the authority had made a motion for her to pay the two debts out of savings.
“As savings dwindle, as does everything else,” Witschey said.
Tyler asked Witschey where he wanted her to cut $28,000 out of the budget.
“We will have to figure something out,” Witschey said, adding that the budget was based upon $75,000 of tipping fees.
“It doesn’t look like we will get to that,” he said.
“Three guys have volunteered to be on the finance committee,” Cochran said. “Let’s see if we can take what she (Tyler) had done and improve upon it. Let’s all try to work together on this,” he said.
Cochran said it was obvious that the budget wasn’t going to be approved, “so can our finance committee use this as a starting point or come up with their own can you provide us with some solutions?’
Witschey, Nelsen, and Authority member Larry Edgell – all on the finance committee – agreed to holding a budget work session, to be held Sept. 8.
In another matter, Cochran noted that the authority’s current attorney – Ben Freeman of the attorney general’s office – had failed to make contact with Silas Taylor.
“A week ago, the board authorized me to get ahold of Ben Freeman and the attorney general’s office and have him contact Mr. Taylor, to see if Mr. Taylor would settle for the balance due, minus the amount of invoice #6, which was $7,700.”
Cochran explained that Freeman had attempted to talk to Taylor, as well as write to him – both of which failed to yield a response.
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.
In another matter, during period for public comment, New Martinsville City Councilwoman Iris Isaacs cited an article, concerning the authority, from the Aug. 31 Wetzel Chronicle. The article noted discussion from the Aug. 25 special meeting of the authority, in which authority members had discussed the authority’s finances. It was noted that if the authority’s finances do not improve, the recycling program might have to end.
“I was pretty confused why we want to get rid of the recycling program and we have such loyalty to Mr. Taylor. I hate to see where we will get rid of an executive director if money gets tight. Every one of us has a job, and we really appreciate the pay we get. I don’t like those kinds of comments. I don’t understand why you guys don’t want a budget. I know the city is required by law to have a budget. The reason we have it, is to give an idea of expenses in, and what may come out.”
“I don’t know why there is confusion on the budget. That concerns me.”
Isaacs also referenced a remark made by Durig, which was quoted in the paper. Durig had remarked on the amount of citizens who now come to solid waste authority meetings, versus in years’ past.
“I didn’t get involved until I started hearing of some of the abuses going on. And like I said, I was going to be watching.”
Isaacs noted that $150,000 was paid to a lawyer “because people weren’t watching and they did stuff without board approval Those are the things that are bothering me. We are required by law to have a budget, and I don’t see why that is such an issue.”
Durig offered clarification on his remarks,”There were years we met at city hall. We didn’t have nothing. Nobody showed up. It seems now that we got a little money, and heads start popping up a little bit. It’s great that you guys are coming. It just seems like it was a matter of time they all came in at once. I think there was stuff being said about what was going on with the board.”
Durig noted that Taylor, the lawyer Isaacs had spoken of, was probably led on.
“And he didn’t bill as quick as he should have.” Yet, “I feel we owe him as if we owe anybody else. I don’t think we ought to leave him hanging out there. I think we ought to give him fair payment,” he said.
As to recycling, Durig noted the unpredictability of landfill tipping fees.
“We never know what the B&O tax will be, but we still have a budget,” Isaacs said.
As to Isaac’s concerns about a budget, Nelsen noted that what he has “been approached with, is you all need to live within your budget.”
“You don’t have a budget,” Isaacs said.
Nelsen said he felt like the authority needed to spend more time reviewing the matter and “do our due diligence and look at it.”
Durig noted that in the past, “we didn’t have the financial problems. We did have lawyer fees, but we didn’t have trailers and trucks running all over the countryside.”
“I don’t think having an office and trailers and doing a recycling program is a bad thing,” Tyler later remarked to Durig. “The reason people started asking questions is, if you recall, our former chairman – Mr. Hughes – did presentations all over the state, in the tri-state area, before the commission, and everywhere else and informed them there was drill mud going into the landfill. So for anybody who knows anything about the landfill, 700,000 tons of drill mud went into the landfill at 50 cents a ton. That’s $350,000.”
Tyler further noted that many of the items acquired by the landfill have been paid for by grant funds that have been secured.
“I will apply for them every year and do everything I can do. I fought for this program since the day it started. Now you new members will find out that I will fight for it. I think it is a good thing for our schools, good for the county.”
Wetzel County Commissioner Don Mason inquired as to whether anyone on the solid waste authority has tried to arrange a payment plan with Attorney Taylor.
It was noted that the motion had been passed to pay $2,000 a month.
“Was that detrimental to your financial situation?” Mason inquired.
“Our lawyer recommended we pay him $500 a month, but the board decided to pay him $2,000, so that is what we decided to pay him.”
Durig noted that the board could readdress the issue at anytime.
Allen Rush of the Upper Ohio Valley Soil Conservation Board noted that he felt Taylor was the one in the wrong.
“As an attorney, it is up to him to secure a contract for him, detailing his charges and how he will be paid. So now, if you think there is a question as to whether you were overcharged, you aren’t obligated to pay him. Everyone deserves to be paid, but some of these attorneys will abuse you and even lead you down the wrong road. They don’t seem to care. I can say that this solid waste authority is the envy, because when I go to state meetings, supervisors from other districts are saying ‘You guys have it good. You have tipping fees and stuff coming in.'”
“I think you guys are trying to do the right thing. I wouldn’t worry so much about Mr. Silas Taylor.”
In another matter, Tyler gave the recycling report for the month of August. She noted that for July and August, 44,748.85 pounds of recycling has been collected.
She said she could tell the authority’s radio ads have been playing as she is getting several calls at the office throughout the week.