The Douglas County Solid Waste Advisory Committee voted 4-3 Wednesday in favor of a motion by Dick Heard that all large fee waivers for dumping should be brought before the committee before approval.
The move followed in the wake of controversy over the county allowing the Hanna family to deposit at least $50,000 worth of material in the landfill for free after they demolished the Windmill Inn.
As several members of the committee expressed support for the motion, current and former county staff members began circling the wagons. Former county planning director Keith Cubic, a voting member of the committee, argued that the subject wasn’t on the agenda of Wednesday’s meeting, which was billed as a work session. He made a motion to delay the vote to another meeting, which failed for lack of a second. Public Works Director Scott Adams, not a voting member of the committee, threatened to leave the room and take his staff with him if the discussion continued. He didn’t carry through on the threat.
The meeting had been standing room only, but after a lengthy discussion of different options for transfer station closures and dumping fees, many in the audience left too early to see the controversy erupt.
Heard had been quiet for most of the meeting, but when asked for his input near the end, he read a motion he had written beforehand. He moved that the committee send a letter to the Douglas County Board of Commissioners stating future decisions on fee waivers should be brought before the SWAC, discussed and voted on before being implemented or rejected. He said it would improve public confidence in the transparency of the solid waste program to have SWAC review future fee waivers. The motion excluded voluntary cleanups but included cleanups for demolishing the vacant Safeway and Rite-Aid buildings in Roseburg.
After Adams attempted to force the issue off the table, Heard firmly stated that it was SWAC Chairman Levi Huffman, and not the county staff, who was in charge of the meeting, citing the county ordinance.
Heard was appointed to the committee as a replacement for former SWAC committee chairman Larry Spielbusch, who said the reason he was kicked off the committee last month was because he repeatedly requested the Hanna fee waiver be placed on the committee’s agenda.
Cubic said he was concerned that since the issue wasn’t on the agenda for the work session, it would be violating public meeting laws to vote on it. He said more meetings should take place before such a policy decision was made.
“If we’re going to say that this is the way fee waivers should work, then we need to have some additional information. We need a staff report. We need to review some options. We need to have that discussion from a policy standpoint. We’re creating a policy without having the details of how the system even works,” he said.
Cubic also said it wouldn’t be practical for the committee to handle waivers, since it ordinarily meets quarterly.
Heard said he was talking about major fee waivers, not small volunteer cleanups.
“I’m talking about things that I think the public have a lot of concerns about. As far as quarterly meetings, if we’ve got something the developer is really hot to go and it’s really going to benefit the community, then we need to just call a meeting and come in and discuss it,” he said.
He said fee waivers are the type of thing the committee should be making decisions about, and the committee needed to do the right thing.
“That’s the spirit in which this committee was formed by previous administrations. That’s what they set this committee up for,” he said. “If you read the ordinance, it’s well within the purview of what our authority is. I think it needs to be addressed.”
Adams said this was a work session and there were no actions to be made.
Huffman said there was still a motion on the table, but Adams said the committee was off topic.
“There will be no actions at this meeting. If this continues to go on, my staff and I will get up and leave, and you guys can continue to talk,” Adams said.
“Let me tell you something,” Heard answered. “Levi is chairman of this committee. He’s running the meeting.”
He said Adams could hit the trail if he wanted to, but he should let the chairman do his job.
Committee member Ellen Porter said she felt the motion was timely and the issue needed to be addressed because it was “the elephant in the room right now.”
Committee member Phil Bigler said he believed it was why 99 percent of the crowd had turned up to the meeting.
Porter requested the committee be given more detailed information about the county’s solid waste budget before making detailed recommendations on the transfer stations.
When Huffman first called for a vote, it was 3-2 in favor of Heard’s motion. Cubic then indicated that current Douglas County Planning Director Joshua Shaklee was also a voting member. Shaklee initially indicated he thought he was a nonvoting member. A roll call vote was then taken. Bigler, Porter and Heard voted yes. Cubic and Shaklee voted no. So did Jess Terrel, despite having mentioned earlier that he opposed fee waivers for big businesses who could pay their own dumping fees. Huffman voted yes, breaking the tie.
The ultimate decision on how waivers will be handled rests with the county commissioners.
Prior to the debate, the committee spend most of the meeting discussing several options for handling increased solid waste costs, including raising fees systemwide or closing some transfer sites.
The county currently operates 11 transfer sites. Under some options discussed Wednesday, that number could drop to either four or eight. Fees could be increased to between $4 and $6 per bag, with higher costs the more stations remain open. Currently, it costs $3 for a 35-gallon bag or can of trash.