Archived Story

Get some good advice

Published 2:57pm Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The cities of Suffolk and Virginia Beach have both announced their intention to pursue an extension to the Southeastern Public Service Authority, whose contracts with area cities expire in 2018. For the time being, though, nobody else has committed to continuing the alliance that created the regional trash authority.

As it usually does, the decision for each of those communities is likely to come down to money, and in this case, there’s a good chance more of that money than ever before will be coming from the residents of Suffolk.

Since SPSA was created in the ‘70s, Suffolk has received the benefit of free trash disposal at the regional landfill, while the other cities of Hampton Roads (with the exception of Virginia Beach) paid tipping fees of as much as $170 per ton to dump their garbage at the Route 58 facility.

Virginia Beach negotiated a cheaper, capped rate by virtue of the fact that the arrangement never could have sustained itself financially without the tonnage that city contributed, especially in the early years. Suffolk earned its favorable financial arrangement by agreeing to host the landfill, an act that has also given the city environmental risk, littered roads and rank odors in return.

If and when SPSA continues to be useful following the 2018 end of its contracts, it is unlikely the negative aspects of hosting the landfill will make much difference to the rest of Hampton Roads, where city councils and municipal representatives on the SPSA board have made a regular refrain in recent years of the call to make Suffolk pay for disposing of its trash. When all is said and done, it’s likely Suffolk will be forced to pay the authority for the right to dump trash at the shared landfill.

What remains unanswered is the question of how the city will be reimbursed for the costs and risks associated with hosting the landfill. In a recent non-binding resolution of intent to continue as a member of the regional waste authority, Suffolk City Council called on all cities to pay the same tipping fees, but for Suffolk to receive a host fee for every ton of trash dumped at the landfill.

Setting the host fee, then, becomes the most important negotiating point of the inter-city discussions. Early talks, according to Suffolk officials, have suggested a fee of $4 per ton and a minimum $1 million annual payment.

There will be significant pressure from surrounding localities for Suffolk to buckle beneath calls for “fairness” and regionalism. But our sister cities across Hampton Roads have demonstrated time and again that neither of those terms has much weight when set against the self interest of those respective municipalities. Suffolk leaders must take a firm negotiating stance in order to protect their own citizens. And just as important, they must be sure that whatever agreement is reached is ironclad through the closing days of SPSA’s next iteration. It must be assumed that any leeway the other members have to change the agreement to their own benefit will soon be exploited.

This will be one of the most important and potentially expensive “business” deals Suffolk ever negotiates. City officials should tread carefully and be unafraid to seek advice about it from community leaders inside and outside the political realm.

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