No copy of the contract for tipping fees from the landfill it privatized some years ago, no list of what those fees were, and no detailed accounting of what they were used for: that was the answer from Lowndes County’s Open Records Officer. She also took more than 3 days to produce this non-information, answering the day after the recent County Commission meeting. Here’s her answer:
Subject: Open records requests
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2013 20:42:16 +0000
In response to your open records requests of June 6, 2013, please find the following:
For the contract or agreement addressing tipping fees, you may contact Regional Commission Representative, Julia ShewChuk, at 229-333-5277. Lowndes County is not the custodian of this information. You many find fee amounts in Lowndes Countys Comprehensive Annual Reports located on the countys website, www.lowndescounty.com. To access these reports, go to the Government tab at the top of the homepage, then County Manager, then Finance, then Financial Reports. Fees are located on page 38 for 2008, page 38 for 2009, page 38 for 2010, page 39 for 2011 and page 36 for 2012.
To be clear, tipping fees are paid by anyone that takes material to the landfill. Lowndes County receives a host fee for any material brought into the landfill. These funds are used for post closure costs related to the closing of the old Clyattville landfill. The county is required by the state to maintain and monitor this old landfill for approximately 15 more years.
April Huntley’s Open Records Request of 6 June 2013, #1:
Contract or other agreement with Veolia or Onyx or Evergreen or whoever provides a portion of tipping fees to Lowndes County, specifying what these fees are.
According to the response Lowndes County “is not the custodian” of a contract to which Lowndes County is a partner. Does this mean the county doesn’t have a copy of the contract? If not, how do they know how much to expect in fees? If they do have a copy, why didn’t they produce it in response to an open records request?
April Huntley’s request #2:
Amount of tipping fees received by Lowndes County for the past five years.
Each of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) has on the indicated page a column that says Landfill. The picture on the right above is of page 38 in the 2008 CAFR. The rest are similar and may be found on the county’s Finance Reports page. Page 38 for 2008 has a line item for “Solid waste host fees” with $50,000 income in the Landfill column. Is that the tipping fees? What is this Landfill Fund? It is defined in 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012 as:
Landfill Fund. The fund accounts for solid waste host fees collected and post-closure care cost of the closed landfill.
The Landfill Fund oversees the post-closure expenses of a closed landfill. Solid waste host fees provide revenue to cover these expenses which have been accrued to cover the anticipated cost of monitoring the landfill in accordance with environmental regulations.
That’s nice, but after 2008, the CAFRs don’t say how much the solid waste host fees were.
There’s also a Landfill revenue item for “Contractual services” in the Landfill column: $26,461 for 2008, $115,352 for 2009, $83,421 for 2010, $53,471 for 2011, and $43,772 for 2012. What is that, and why did it suddenly swell and then go back down? Is that the tipping fees? If so, why did they go down?
Those post-closure costs seem to have gone up from $66,008 in 2008 to $77,368 in 2012. What they are spent on is not specified.
For 2011, on page 59 there’s a “Transfer To” the Landfill Fund of $46,205, and a “Transfer From” the Landfill Fund to the General Fund of $3,556. Below that table there’s a note that says:
Transfers were made from the nonmajor governmental funds and enterprise funds to the general fund for administrative cost.
What those administrative costs might be and why they started being charged is not specified.
Maybe the tipping fees are the “Other Income” of $462,824 in 2009, $624,153 in 2010, $811,150 in 2011, and $411,070 in 2012? Why does the county leave us to guess?
The same 2011 page 59 table shows transfers from the Landfill Fund to “Nonmajor governmental funds” of $4,167 and to the “Sanitation Fund” of $435,000. What’s the Sanitation Fund? In the 2008 CAFR:
The Sanitation Fund accounts for sanitation services in anticipation of creating a fee based service.
The Sanitation Fund accounts for sanitation services with the inception of a fee based service.
2010, 2011, and 2012:
Sanitation Fund. This fund accounts for fees collected by the County for sanitation services.
And for the Sanitation Fund, there are various amounts in and out, but no detailed accounting as to how many card customers for the county’s waste collection centers, what the expenses went for, etc.
April Huntley’s request #3:
Accounting of usage funds from tipping fees.
The county’s response mentions nothing but this:
These funds are used for post closure costs related to the closing of the old Clyattville landfill. The county is required by the state to maintain and monitor this old landfill for approximately 15 more years.
Which doesn’t explain page 58 in the 2009 CAFR which seems to show $50,000 transferred from the Landfill Fund to the Keep Lowndes Valdosta Beautiful Fund and $622,000 transferred from the Landfill Fund to the Sanitation Fund. The explanatory note on the same page says:
Transfers to the Keep Lowndes Valdosta Beautiful Fund and the Sanitation Fund are to cover operational cost of the fund.
So the CAFRs the Lowndes County’s Open Records Officer pointed to as answer to these Open Records Requests answer none of the questions that were asked. Open Records Officer is a position required by state law so that people will know who is responsible for satisfying open records requests.