Tie vote stops waste ordinance from making ballot
August 23, 2018
A ballot question to create a publicly funded solid waste program stalled Tuesday after the Haines Borough Assembly’s split vote.
The proposed ordinance that would levy up-to-a-1-percent sales tax to pay for the program passed during its first public hearing after Mayor Jan Hill broke a 3-3 tie. Hill was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, attending an Alaska Municipal League meeting in Denali.
Assembly members Tresham Gregg, Tom Morphet and Brenda Josephson have been critical of the ordinance. Morphet has said he wants to explore other options before increasing taxes. Josephson has criticized the ordinance because it lacks a concrete plan.
Gregg made a motion Tuesday to postpone the ordinance indefinitely. “I think we’ve heard from a number of people about this and I concur. I don’t think it’s such a crisis at the moment that we absolutely have to have it on this October’s ballot. I think it’s worth pursuing as a government, but I think the details need to be forthcoming so when we do bring it to the vote of the people, that it won’t be shot down.”
Four people Tuesday spoke in opposition to the ordinance during its public hearing. Melissa Aronson served on the Solid Waste Working Group, a body that met for 18 months in an effort to create a plan to curb illegal dumping, increase recycling and composting and more efficiently take care of garbage in Haines. She suggested the assembly delay the ordinance for one year in order to create a five-year action plan, and launch a public education campaign about recycling and composting.
“I feel like the proposed ordinance was rushed forward to make a deadline for the October ballot,” Aronson said. “A clearer ordinance with clearly articulated goals would in my opinion have a better chance of passage.”
Paul Nelson said the borough shouldn’t propose to interfere with Community Waste Solutions, a state-regulated private business, which currently operates the landfill.
Assembly member Heather Lende opposed postponing the ordinance, and said it’s a “political way to kick the can down the road.” She said the ordinance created by borough staff was a good compromise to the solid waste working group’s recommendations which included closing the landfill.
Instead of closing the landfill, the ordinance said the borough would solicit proposals for the disposal and transfer of solid waste.
“It’s possible to keep the landfill open but there’s going to be more regulations about what can and can’t go into it,” Lende said. “It encourages recycling, reducing, reuse.”
The assembly should give the voters the opportunity to tell the borough if they’d at least be willing to support a publicly funded solid waste program, assembly member Sean Maidy said. “The main question this is asking the people when it goes to the ballot is: Is up -to-a-1-percent sales tax acceptable to fund this basic idea?” Maidy said.
Borough manager Debra Schnabel said she wanted dissenting assembly members to tell her if they were against the ordinance because it would be subsidized or because it lacked a plan. “Assembly member Gregg, when he started the conversation, he said ‘We need a better plan.’ Ok, I just need to say, ‘What does a better plan look like?’ Is it publicly funded or is it privately funded?” Schnabel asked.
Josephson called a point of order and said the conversation was in the “assembly’s realm” and should stay within the assembly. Schnabel interjected and said, “The manager has the right to speak.”
Morphet said there were three issues members of the public brought him regarding the plan: taxation, the plan’s scope and the municipality getting involved in solid waste. “I think there’s multiple issues we need to work through to get at some progress on this issue and I’m starting to chafe a bit because I thought I laid out an alternative, which is, let’s look at the most severe issues we have which I think is the (illegal) dumping and the burning,” Morphet said.
The vote to postpone the ordinance failed 0-6. The assembly then voted 3-3 to adopt the ordinance. Tuesday’s meeting was the last opportunity the assembly had to vote on the ordinance in time to make October’s ballot.
The ordinance has divided the assembly since early June when Schnabel raised concerns including “leachate outside of landfill perimeter, trash outside of perimeter, evidence of bears, sludge leaking out of storage bins and junked vehicles on site.” Staff also took water samples from nearby streams testing for fecal coliforms—the results of which came back at acceptable levels, according to public facilities director Brad Ryan.
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation solid waste program manager Doug Buteyn told the CVN at the time that most of the borough’s concerns were “minimal” or “easily remedied.”
In 2013, Community Waste Solutions made strides to improve its landfill after difficulties meeting state environmental regulations, according to CVN news stories.
The company improved scores received during annual state inspections from 47 of 100 in 2011 to 93 of 100 in 2013.