Trash authority views $46.3 million budget

Published 1:49 pm Friday, March 25, 2016

By Tracy Agnew
Special to the Tidewater News

The regional trash authority on Wednesday viewed a proposed budget of $46.3 million.

The Southeastern Public Service Authority will hold a public hearing on the budget at its April 27 meeting and could then vote to approve it.

The budget is a 3.7-percent increase from last year. It includes a 3-percent cost of living increase for employees, eliminates two vacant positions and includes an overall decrease of 1 percent for operating expenses.

Liesl DeVary, the authority’s chief financial officer, presented numbers comparing the Fiscal Year 2010 budget to the proposed budget.

There has been a 32-percent reduction in operating expenses and a 30-percent decline in full-time equivalent positions, she said, while the authority reduced debt by 86 percent and the tons of trash delivered to it for disposal decreased only 3 percent.

“I think all of this does show you that this is not the same SPSA,” she said.

The authority’s use and support agreements with its eight member localities, which govern its relationships with its members, expire in January 2018. The authority has been wrestling for the past couple of years on how to move forward.In a special meeting earlier this month, the authority approved a notice of intent to award a contract for solid waste disposal post-2018 to RePower South, a company that intends to build a facility in Chesapeake that would compress the region’s trash into energy pellets, an alternative fuel source.

But that decision has drawn ire from people who support the current disposal method, the Wheelabrator waste-to-energy plant in Portsmouth. Several of them spoke during Wednesday’s meeting.

“Wheelabrator came in and saved y’all from bankruptcy,” said Donna Sayegh, a Portsmouth resident. “We the people know that we need Wheelabrator in our city.”

Wheelabrator purchased the Portsmouth plant from SPSA in 2009, helping it pay down debt that equaled about $240 million at the time.

Suffolk City Manager Patrick Roberts voted against the notice of intent to award earlier this month because it uses the Suffolk landfill as a backup plan, and no conditional use permit to extend the landfill’s capacity is on file.

However, SPSA Executive Director Rowland Taylor said Wednesday that the authority is in the process of gathering the needed information to apply for the use permit.

“These initial talks we hope to be finished by the first part of May,” he said.

Roberts said during a break in the meeting that he has been encouraged this week by the progress of talks between the city and a board committee that are hammering out details of an agreement that would provide Suffolk some compensation for hosting the regional landfill.

In the past, Suffolk has received free trash disposal in exchange for hosting the landfill, but that has caused consternation for other member localities, especially as their disposal fees grew in the shadow of the authority’s overwhelming debt.

But with new agreements set to be approved, other localities have made clear they won’t agree to participate if Suffolk again receives the same deal. Therefore, the city has requested other concessions, such as a certain dollar amount for every ton of trash delivered to the landfill.