Local News

County looking at landfill issues

County and city administrators and their attorneys sat down together Monday and Tuesday to discuss whether Avon Park and Lake Placid will really truck their garbage to Okeechobee.

"I'm certain, at the very least, we will have a good update from the county administrator at our next meeting, if not a formal agenda item," said Commissioner Don Elwell, who represents southwest Sebring and rural Lake Placid.

In late March, Town Administrator Phil Williams said Lake Placid has a contract with a private landfill in Okeechobee. Three days later, Avon Park Administrator Julian Deleon informed council members that he is investigating the same possibility.

Commissioners were troubled by the news, especially since Senior Budget Manager Tim Mechling has warned that the county could face a $10 million deficit.

"It's a pretty good chunk of change, maybe $350,000 to $400,000," said Commission Chair Greg Harris, who represents Sebring. "That's certainly revenue that we would not like to lose."

Jack Richie, who represents Lake Placid, said Deleon and Williams are "just looking at the economics - what's best for their towns. I can't blame them for that."

At the same time, Richie said, the county attorney is studying state statutes which dictate where municipalities can dump garbage. "There are some questions about the history of how the landfill was set up, and there may be a state directive that the municipalities, if it's available in the county, they may have to use that facility. They can't go to a private landfill. I think that may need some clarification before the county commission."

The Okeechobee Landfill near SR 70 is owned by Waste Management Inc. of Houston, Texas. Avon Park City Hall is 63 miles away; Lake Placid Town Hall is 51 miles away.

"I've asked for several things to be looked at," Richie said.

That includes finances. "We took a loss the two years in a row with the landfill. We've been putting away money pretty judiciously for retirement of the landfill."

"It will definitely have a negative impact on the profitability of the landfill, no question about that, and it could indirectly affect the general fund," Elwell said. "But I'm still pretty hopeful that an amicable solution can be worked out. I'm not sure whether that will include rate reductions, but we're willing to look at all of those things. My goal is that we have a strong relationship with the cities."

"We want to do everything we can so we can have our own folks use our own landfill," Harris said. "I'm glad they brought this up. We just need to make it benefit the county and the cities."