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City moves along with landfill closure

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

The Huntington City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to help finance a full closure of the City’s landfill which is expected to cost an additional $4.5 million on top of the $4 million in bonds taken out in 2017 to partially close the landfill. 

While there wasn’t much discussion at Tuesday morning’s meeting, Council President Charles Chapman explained earlier this month that none of the council members of administration with the City of Huntington want to close the landfill but recent state mandates have increased the cost of running the landfill to where it doesn’t make sense to have it remain open. 

The City of Huntington allocates about $750,000 annually toward landfill operation, according to budget reports, but in the most recent years that cost has nearly doubled, totalling $1.5 million in 2015, $1.4 milion in 2016 and $1.4 million in 2017, according to budgets. Mayor Brooks Fetters said that “ever changing” requirements from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) have made operating a landfill too costly. 

“Every year we go on, city taxpayers are paying significantly more money than if we close it,” Public Works and Engineering Services director Anthony Goodnight said.

In fact, Huntington’s landfill is the only city-owned landfill left in Indiana, which Fetters said is probably a good indication that this move to close the landfill is overdue. 

Now that the landfill is on its way to being fully closed, city officials said yearly operation costs should be reduced nearly by half, dropping to between $300,000 to $400,000. Plus, Fetters said the city will avoid spending $1.3 million on two new garbage trucks that were needed, and the city should be able to sell its existing equipment for around $750,000. 

The bonds that will be needed to fully close the landfill are estimated to generate a property tax increase of 9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which will be used to pay off a 20-year bond needed to finance the closure. The city reports that for an owner of a home valued at $75,700 the tax increase will ammount to $15.12 a year. 

In 2018, city leaders looked into options before deciding to close the landfill, which mainly had to do with how the landfill was being filled up at a faster rate than expected, since IDEM mandated that only 57 of the 225 acres could be used for dumping. 

If the landfill was only reserved for city residents, city residents would have ot pay $81 annually in order to keep the landfill operational for an estimated 12 to 14 years, with an impending closure of 2029, where the bonds, and accompanying property tax increase, would still be needed to close the landfill. The annual fee used to be a little more than 12 dollars annually. 

The recycling program, which has saved money for the city, will continue to be used. The City will also continue pickups of yard waste and large household items and the Huntington County Solide Waste Management District will continue to operate. 

Fetters also sadi escalating costs of running the landfill can also be attributed to IDEM’s discovery of major violations, since he believes they’re paying extra special attention to the landfill. An audit found that landfill operators never held state certification, fees were unpaid, industrial waste was disposed of and trash was overfilled in an area that was required to remain closed in order to protect groundwater from being contaminated. 

Fetters said in a statement, “It’s no longer a wise economic value to continue to invest in the landfill.”