Since at least back to 2000, local nonprofits have not had to pay the $52-per-ton dumping fee at the Rockingham County Landfill. Next year, however, they will need to pay. For some, that change could hurt, as WMRA’s Christopher Clymer Kurtz reports.
It’s a sunny morning and Bryan Koogler is one of the workers on the donations drop-off bay at Gift and Thrift in Harrisonburg.
BRYAN KOOGLER: I’m just essentially doing a rough sort here, but basically it’s a long multi-stage filtering process that everything goes through. At the end of the day we’re trying to sell quality things, and part of that is just weeding out the stuff that people didn’t want to take to the dump.
Amy Haloskey is dropping of a few bagged items.
AMY HALOSKEY: I actually brought home goods, some clothes, some electronics. I just moved, so I like to take it here.
Gift and Thrift is among the nonprofits preparing for a change: having to pay disposal tonnage fees at the county landfill. This summer the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to no longer accept waste at no charge from nonprofits, effective January 1st, 2018. Gift and Thrift expects that to increase costs by thousands of dollars, as some donated items that are not resellable end up going to the landfill.
Stephen King is the Rockingham County Administrator. The free tonnage option for nonprofit dumping has been around since before he began working for the county, in 2000. But operating the landfill has become more expensive.
STEPHEN KING: It's not just a dump, it's a lined landfill, it's a engineered, designed, contained, disposal area. The landfill really needs to operate as an enterprise fund, so it operates on its own, which means no tax dollars go into that operation. The tipping fees that folks pay to bring waste to the landfill is what pays for that landfill operation.
In 2016 nonprofits weren’t charged for $131,000 dollars worth of dumping, which equals just over 2% of the landfill’s $5.5 million annual budget.
County Supervisor Fred Eberly said the decision was a matter of fairness.
FRED EBERLY: It was nice to do, and we felt it was a community service. But to ask everybody to pay for it without asking them, we felt it was unfair, since it's an enterprise local service, that we give away and require other people to fund what we give away.
Not all nonprofit thrift stores will be affected by the change. A Goodwill spokesperson for the area said they contract as a commercial customer with a dumping service, as does the Salvation Army, and the Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Shop in Harrisonburg shares a dumpster along with several other businesses.
And not all of the nonprofits that will be affected are thrift stores — like the Rockingham County Fair Association. Locally based Green Earth, a recycling and waste collection provider, estimates that the week of the county fair alone generates at least 8-10 tons of refuse. A Fair Association board member said the association is not sure how much the change will affect its annual costs, and that adjustments to rental prices for next season will take disposal tonnage fees into account.
County administrator King said that nonprofits can lobby the county for contributions to cover expenses that could include trash disposal; it already allocates $65,000 annually to the fairgrounds’ general fund.
KING: If there’s some operation that the board thinks is worthy of receiving some county funds directly from the general fund to fund that effort, that’s one thing, but it’s not something that should come from the enterprise fund.
Having to pay the tonnage fees will be an expensive change for some nonprofits.
Mercy House estimates that paying landfill fees will increase their costs by $15,000, almost as much as it takes for them to shelter two families for a year. The majority of their landfill use happens because Mercy House has a policy of honoring donations of even marginal value, and because of after-hours dumping at their shelter and store sites. They are considering increasing security at those sites, and becoming more selective when accepting donations.
Gift and Thrift, too, is going to feel those disposal fees, which could possibly be as much as $8,000 per year. General manager Shannon Secrist said that the store splits its revenue, and sends half of its proceeds to relief work. The change will mean $4,000 less for that giving, and $4,000 less for its own operations.
SECRIST: In the grand scheme of things $4,000 might not be a ton to larger corporations, but when you talk about small business, it’s substantial for us.
Bryan Koogler, out on the receiving dock at Gift and Thrift, says he might have to get more assertive.
KOOGLER: I think people don’t realize the unfortunate reality of how much ends up getting thrown away. I guess we’re just going to have to get more selective about the things that we receive. That’s really all we can do.
AMY HALOSKEY to Gift and Thrift worker: Thank you so much, sir.
Workers will weed through Amy Haloskey’s and other donations, assessing which items they think they can sell for income, and which ones must end up in the landfill — which, starting in January, will cost them $52 a ton.