SENECA FALLS — To virtually no one’s surprise, issues related to Seneca Meadows dominate the upcoming election for town supervisor.
The Town Board passed Local Law 3 of 2016 requiring the landfill to close by Dec. 31, 2025. The legislation survived a bid to rescind it, although Seneca Meadows initiated an Article 78 proceeding that won’t be argued or decided until 2020.
A Host Community Agreement with the landfill gives the town $3 million a year in additional revenue.
Town residents will elect a supervisor to succeed Greg Lazzaro, along with two Town Board members to follow Lou Ferrara and Vic Porretta. Lazzaro, Ferrara and Porretta all decided not to run again.
The supervisor race pits current Town Board member Doug Avery, a Democrat, against first-time candidate Mike Ferrara, a Republican. If Avery wins, his Town Board seat will be vacant, and the new board will have to appoint someone to the seat until a 2020 election is held to fill the final year of Avery’s term.
The Finger Lakes Times asked the supervisor candidates the following questions:
What is your position on Local Law 3 of 2016, which would have Seneca Meadows close by Dec. 31, 2025?
AVERY — If it is time to get out from under the landfill, and I believe it is, then Local Law 3 is the only way to make that happen. Even though the Host Community Agreement expires in 2025, Waste Connections has made it clear that they will not voluntarily close Seneca Meadows in that time frame. Concern has been expressed that when the time comes, the state will not allow the landfill to close. With a valid local law in place, the state would have to override home rule to keep Seneca Meadows operating.
The right to decide the future of Seneca Meadows should rest with the people of Seneca Falls. We should be making it as difficult as possible for Waste Connections or the people in Albany to take that away. Local Law 3 is the single greatest step we can take to preserve that right.
FERRARA — Local Law 3 is the law of the community. I currently respect the law. We need to unite our community. The divisiveness must stop. We need to come together and work on the issues and problems of Seneca Falls, not continue to argue over the landfill. Local laws come and go with each new administration. There will be two more elections before the proposed closure date of 2025. In addition, there is active litigation ongoing between SMI and the town.
I support maintaining the facility because it has a major economic impact on our local economy. Not even considering the host agreement contribution, jobs will be lost, secondary businesses will be negatively affected, and many not-for-profit organizations will be devastated. However, if future boards should decide otherwise, and if it is the will of the taxpayers, once they know the true economic impact, to not renew the host agreement, we need to become fiscally responsible and be prepared to offset the substantial loss in tax revenue or reduce services, which I do not favor.
If the landfill closes by that date, how can the town make up for the roughly $3 million in annual lost revenue?
AVERY — The first step was taken by the Town Board when it prepared the 2018 budget. They resolved to stop using landfill revenue to keep taxes artificially low. Since then we have worked to put plans in place that use most of the landfill revenue for infrastructure renovations and improvements.
My plans would use roughly 75 percent of the landfill revenue between now and 2025 to make sure that when the landfill closes that year, our water and sewer systems, our roads and our buildings are in the best possible condition. The remaining 25 percent should be put aside to offset future needs. As the revenue ends, so will the need for that expenditure.
At the same time, we must pursue and develop other revenue streams. While no one is going to come along and offer us a comparable amount, we can work through new development, increased tourism and grant funding to minimize the difference.
FERRARA — It doesn’t matter if the landfill closes in 2025 or 2030 or 2035. The whole point is that we need to develop an economic plan to prepare for the eventual closure. That planning should begin in January 2020. I would like to use the host agreement contributions to lower taxes, continue infrastructure implementation and promote economic development.
I want to provide opportunities for people to open new businesses with interest-free loans. There are more than 10 empty storefronts in downtown, not to mention the Sackett Business District. I want to provide those same interest-free loans to developers to develop property such as the old Village Hall and the old Town Hall. The loans could be paid back and re-loaned on a revolving basis.
Reserve funds must be maintained within the legal limits, and we need to reduce spending now.
What alternate plan for solid-waste disposal in the town do you support?
AVERY — There is currently the belief that because of the landfill, we get our garbage disposal for free. That’s simply not true. For 2020, we’ll have to budget almost $300,000 for refuse removal. It is safe to assume that the cost will be greater once the landfill closes, but we have more than six years to determine how we can manage to do that every other municipalities on the planet does. We’re up to the task. To say that we can’t close the landfill in 2025 because we don’t have a specific plan in 2019 makes no sense.
FERRARA — We need to develop a three- to five-year plan to address our solid-waste issues. Solid waste is not just a problem in Seneca Falls, it is a worldwide problem. Closing a landfill is not the solution to solid waste. We need to work with Seneca County on a comprehensive recycling program. We need to find alternative markets for our recycling material. We need to look at community composting centers in the town and educate people on the use of composting since 30 percent of all landfill waste is food.
How much will it cost to have our solid waste brought to another landfill? Will we need to build a transfer station to temporarily hold our solid waste? Where would that be located? Town residents do not pay a tipping fee to use the landfill, only a hauling fee.
What are other major issues the town faces and how would you deal with them?
AVERY — We must breathe some added life into our downtown blocks. The store owners, restaurants and professionals who are here now work very hard to keep this area vibrant and active, but there are simply too many empty storefronts. We must increase the dialogue between the town and merchants and give them the resources they need to thrive.
At the same time, we have to seek out and support new businesses. Grant funding will help get us started, but that’s not enough. We have to do more. The town began an initiative this year to enforce the town codes more strictly, particularly as they pertain to zombie homes, irresponsible absentee landlords and people with junkyards behind or beside their homes. In doing so, we have wrongly put a great deal of pressure on our own residents who might be behind in mowing their lawn, painting their shutters, etc. We need to examine what we’re doing and how we’re doing it so the message is sent to those who need it without threatening our own neighbors.
FERRARA — First, we need to become united and stop all the infighting related to landfill issues. It consumes everyone’s time, and nothing else gets accomplished. Second, infrastructure and water treatment plant updates need to be addressed immediately. We need to identify the major problems and begin a plan to fix them. We need to do a much better job of utilizing federal and state grants availability. I have personal experience generating grant proposals during my previous school district career. Based on our needs, we should be able to procure significant more state and federal dollars to aid our community.
Third, fiscal responsibility and conservative budgeting needs to begin now. I call for an immediate audit of the 2019 financials to determine if the town’s financials are in good order. I would call for an immediate and detailed report on the host agreement contributions over the past five years. Fourth, I would hold SMI accountable to the current host agreement of 2017. Previous administrations have failed to do this. There are odor-control requirements in the agreement that town officials have failed to address. We must demand full compliance. Otherwise, SMI should be held financially accountable to our taxpayers.
Fifth, I would work with SMI, the DEC, the EPA and town engineers to address issues related to the potential closure of the landfill. Sixth, there is no transitional leadership. We need to have a town administrator, someone who is qualified to run the day-to-day operations of the town. Most towns have either an administrator or a full-time supervisor, and we have neither. We don’t need a full-time attorney or a full-time IT person on the payroll.