By Sean Rice
If a proposal by Gov. Bob Taft to increase the per-ton fee charged to trash haulers is adopted by the state Legislature, it would certainly mean higher garbage costs for residents, a local hauler says.
The plan to replace the portion of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's budget currently funded by the state with trash-dumping fees also has some activists concerned about the agency's ability to perform if imported garbage drops-off.
Taft proposed in his $51 billion, two-year budget that the EPA replace the $19.8 million it is receiving in the current budget year with money it would get from an increase in the state's share of the dumping fee, from $2 a ton to $4.75.
Mike Maharg, owner of Maharg Inc., a Celina hauling company, said the change would have a "tremendous impact" on customers.
"That's ridiculous, the state needs to curb their budget," Maharg said this morning of the proposed fee increase. "It all comes back to the people ... It would have to be passed on to the customer." Maharg said the extra $2.75 per ton could cost him $3,000 to $5,000 per month.
Carla Buening with the Mercer County Solid Waste Department noted that none of the proposed increase is earmarked for localities or for local recycling programs.
The increase would raise the average total dumping fee statewide to about $33.35 a ton, a total which includes other fees and landfill costs, the EPA estimates. That figure is in line with other Midwestern states, which averaged about $34 a ton, according to Chartwell Information Publishers, which tracks environmental data.
A series of trash-dumping fees currently is charged to haulers. They pay fees to the county of origin, to the host county where the trash is dumped, to the state and usually to the town the landfill is in.
The new budget, now getting its first hearings in the Legislature, must be in place by July 1.
Taft, looking for ways to cut state spending, asked the EPA where it could make up the money for its budget, EPA director Joseph Koncelik said. The agency chose the trash-dumping fee because it has a broader base than the money it collects from businesses for air emission and water discharge permits, Koncelik said.
''We would have had to raise those fees a lot more as far as a percentage of impact to those people than doing a broad-based fee like the solid-waste fee,'' Koncelik said.
Currently, the EPA gets 63 percent of its funding from fees, permits and other assessments; 24 percent from federal grants; and 13 percent from the state's general revenue fund.
Taft's budget proposal includes an EPA budget of $367 million over the two years beginning July 1. The plan includes only $5 million from the state in the first year and none in the second. The $5 million would help the EPA during the start of dumping fee collections increases.
The state should continue funding its share of the EPA budget because the agency's work is too vital to rely on fees that could decrease if other states that bury their trash in Ohio look elsewhere, environmental activists say. In addition, $1 of every $2.25 of the increase would go toward recycling programs.
''Any housewife making up the (family) budget would never voluntarily eliminate a significant source of revenue,'' said Jack Shaner, a lobbyist for the Ohio Environmental Council. ''So why should the state?''
A reduction in out-of-state trash would help the environment, but it shouldn't be accomplished at the expense of a possibly weakened EPA, said Ellen Hawkey, conservation program coordinator for the Sierra Club's Ohio chapter.
''Increasing tipping fees is something we support. However ... we see environmental protection as a core service,'' Hawkey said.
The EPA believes income from the fees will be stable enough to continue funding at least at current levels, Koncelik said. Relying on any fee presents some risk, he said.
''That's really true with a majority of the fees the Ohio EPA assesses,'' Koncelik said. ''If those emissions go down, our funding goes down correspondingly ... But over time, the solid waste fee has been very reliable, a very predictable amount that has been disposed.''
Taft made the proposal because what's available from the state treasury is even less predictable than what can be collected from dumping fees, Taft spokesman Mark Rickel said.
''The consideration was to get a more reliable source of revenue, considering the challenges within the general revenue fund,'' he said.
Cincinnati-based Rumpke Consolidated Companies Inc., one of Ohio's largest trash haulers and landfill operators, opposes the plan, spokeswoman Amanda Wilson said. The company will work with lawmakers to see if there are alternatives to the increase, she said.
''It will impact customers, municipalities and waste haulers,'' Wilson said. ''It's such an enormous increase, the money will have to come from somewhere.''
The budget currently is under review by the House Finance Committee, which heard testimony this week from Koncelik. Speaker Jon Husted, a Kettering Republican, said he's confident the EPA can live with the switch in funding and that the opponents will get a chance to make their case.
''We will keep an open mind to these suggestions,'' Husted said. ''We need to recognize the fact that the people creating the problems that we're regulating should be paying the price.''
-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.