As La Plata County continues to struggle to provide services amid budget declines, big changes might be coming to the transfer stations in Bayfield and Marvel, where rural residents are now able to drop their trash.
La Plata County does not provide trash service for individual residents, but it does offer the two transfer locations, where a third-party contractor then takes the waste to the Bondad landfill, south of Durango.
Leslie Jakoby, an environmental specialist for the county’s Public Works Department, told county commissioners at a work session last week that more people are dumping bulk items, like couches and mattresses, which is causing space issues and trash to overflow from the dumpsters.
As a result, in recent weeks, more bears have been breaking into the transfer stations. Jakoby floated the idea of creating a fee for bulk items of about $28 to help with the issues.
But the conversation quickly turned to what role the county should play in funding the transfer stations.
Since 2010, La Plata County’s property tax revenue has declined 50% – from $29.4 million to $14.9 million in 2018 – largely a result of oil and gas prices dropping. In response, the county has made stark cuts to staff and services.
Jim Davis, director of the Public Works Department, said the county pays $65,000 a year to WCA Waste Corp. to operate the two transfer stations. WCA also keeps all the fees collected at the site. Davis said about $7,600 in fees were collected in July, for example.
Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said given the county is looking to cut where it can, and that providing the transfer stations is not a statutory requirement, it may be time to rethink the county’s role in the service.
“It’s a great service the county provides … but we’re subsidizing trash and we’re not in the trash business,” she said. “So it doesn’t really make sense from any way you can possibly look at it.”
Lachelt suggested seeing if WCA has any interest in privatizing the transfer station, with the county leasing the land to the company. She said the $65,000 paid to WCA every year could instead fund a critical staff position.
“I think we need a way out of this,” she said. “The time has come. We can’t do this anymore.”
Commissioner Clyde Church told The Durango Herald he wants the county to keep funding the transfer stations.
“That is a real concern in rural areas: How far do you have to take your trash?” he said. “It’s a hardship to have to haul your trash.”
Church said if the transfer stations were to go away, it could result in illegal dumping in rural areas.
Commissioner Julie Westendorff was not at the meeting last week and did not return a call late Wednesday seeking comment.
County Manager Chuck Stevens said the county’s contract with WCA is up at the end of the year. The county had budgeted to re-enter the agreement with WCA for the 2020 budget, but given the conversation at the meeting, that could be re-evaluated in coming weeks.
It was decided the new bulk fee will be put up to a vote by county commissioners in the coming weeks, which will also allow for public comment about the issue.