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Budgets were manipulated to hide landfill costs, Niagara legislators are told

LOCKPORT – For years, the budgets of the Niagara County Refuse Disposal District have been manipulated to conceal the true cost of operating the district’s only active landfill, county legislators were told Monday.

Dawn M. Timm, interim district director, told the district board that a correct allocation of the district’s personnel costs among the county’s four landfills would have made it clear that the construction and demolition, or C&D, landfill was losing money.

“It was to make C&D look profitable,” said County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz, who last June recommended the landfill’s immediate closure.

Timm said that in 2012, 52 percent of the district’s personnel costs were ascribed in the budget prepared by former Director Richard P. Pope to the three closed landfills, two of them in Lockport and one in Wheatfield. Only 48 percent of the personnel costs was allocated to the C&D landfill, the only one where waste is still being dumped.

An analysis of district operations that Timm carried out after taking over from Pope in November shows that 81 percent of the personnel budget actually is spent at C&D. And comparing those costs with the income from disposal fees puts the C&D landfill $415,000 in the red for last year, Timm said.

At his last board meeting before being placed on administrative leave Nov. 1, Pope battled Glatz over whether C&D and the district as a whole were profitable. Timm said that to her, the answer is obvious.

“Calling any part of the district profitable would have to be done independently of property taxes. No part of the district is profitable,” Timm said.

“People didn’t do their homework. We’ve had concerns about this for years,” said Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport. “It was [former County Manager] Greg Lewis’ role and the former director’s role. Now I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

Clough Harbour & Associates, a consulting firm hired by Pope, said last fall that C&D was making money, but Timm said that was because they accepted Pope’s allocation of expenses. Glatz told the board he has a letter from Clough Harbour in which the firm accepts Timm’s analysis.

“The conclusion of the study was based on faulty facts,” said Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda.

“Or inconsistent data,” Timm said.

She said 61 percent of the Refuse District’s budget is covered by a property tax levied in the county’s three cities and in eight of the 12 towns. To her way of thinking, “It’s not profitable unless that number is zero.”

Glatz said the district can’t be abolished because it is required by the state to maintain the closed landfills, including C&D once it is shut down, for at least 30 years. But the tax, which this year was about 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in most of the district, could be cut roughly in half, he estimated.

Legislator Michael A. Hill, R-Hartland, the Refuse District chairman, said the board may vote as soon as next month on a shutdown plan for C&D.

“My opinion is, we should look toward closure,” Hill said.