Report: Keep SPSA going, with changes

Published 11:27 pm Thursday, October 27, 2011

Suffolk would pay trash disposal fees and have relatively less representation on the SPSA board of directors under recommendations made by an engineer’s report this week.

The Southeastern Public Service Authority board had its first public dialogue about the SCS Engineers report on the board’s options beyond 2018, the year when the contracts SPSA has signed with its eight member communities expire.

The 280-page tome ends with a recommendation for future regional cooperation on trash disposal to reduce costs and help achieve solid waste management requirements imposed by state and federal regulators.

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But the report also proposes significant changes, including nixing Suffolk’s free disposal deal and changing the composition of the board of directors.

“Regional cooperation could provide significant reduction in costs through the operation of the regional landfill,” the report states. “This significant cost-control advantage would be lost if the region does not cooperate.”

The authority’s eight member communities — Suffolk, Franklin, Southampton County, Isle of Wight County, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach — cooperate on trash disposal through the regional landfill in Suffolk. As a result, Suffolk does not pay any fees to dispose of its trash, but the other communities pay tipping fees as high as $145 per ton.

Some communities, particularly Isle of Wight and Southampton counties and the city of Franklin, have been in talks to break away and cooperate on their own after the authority’s dissolution.

“We do have a group that is meeting regularly to weigh its options,” said June Fleming, Franklin city manager. Another meeting is set for January, she said, although she won’t be in attendance — she has announced her retirement effective at the end of December.

The report also recommends doing away with Suffolk’s free disposal and instead compensating the city for hosting the landfill by providing a host fee, equal to roughly $1 per ton of trash dumped at the landfill.

“The current approach which provides ‘free disposal’ for Suffolk has proved to be difficult to manage and is considered by some members to not be equitable,” the report states.

Another recommendation is to provide for proportional representation on the board of directors — that is, localities with more residents or more trash would gain more votes on the board.

“This approach better reflects fiscal and solid waste contributions of its members,” reads the report. “However, the proportional representation should be structured such that no one member can on its own control the direction of the regional authority, otherwise future cooperation is unlikely.”

The report noted that some communities disagreed with the recommendation, believing that the current governance model has served the region well.

Currently, the board consists of one citizen of each locality, appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell from among nominations made by the locality’s governing body. Each city or county also has one staff member sitting on the board. In most cases, that is the city manager or county administrator, but others have their city attorney or public works director on the board.

Bob Gardner with SCS Engineers has been making presentations on the report at the governing bodies of all eight member communities in the month since the last SPSA meeting. He has two more to go, including Suffolk’s City Council on Nov. 2.

“This is the phase we’ve been waiting for,” Suffolk City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said at Wednesday’s SPSA meeting. She said she hoped the communities can make a decision as soon as possible.

Though the contracts don’t end for about six more years, the actual decision would have to be made years in advance in order for the proper planning to take place.

“What the report does is provide a very thorough analysis of all the options,” said John Barnes, who represents Virginia Beach on the board. “We’re looking at it hard and will continue to look at it hard.”