Merced County urged to sell landfill machinery

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMay 27, 2013 

Merced County elected officials on Thursday got a more detailed explanation of an outside consultant's recommendations to reduce the amount of equipment at the county's landfills.

The study session, which lasted about an hour, included suggestions from Neal Bolton, who was hired for a three-month evaluation of the current system.

Bolton proposes selling at auction 15 pieces of equipment — eight from the Highway 59 landfill and seven from the Billy Wright site.

Not included in Thursday's discussion were proposed employee layoffs. Bolton originally suggested cutting the work force by 30 percent, eliminating 10 to 13 positions.

Bolton focused on the scraper, a machine that loads dirt and releases it to other areas. The two landfills have four scrapers, but Bolton suggested selling three and transporting one between the two sites.

Getting rid of the three scrapers would bring almost $600,000 back into the landfill's budget, he said.

"We don't use the scrapers every day," Bolton said. "It makes no sense to have a machine sitting there that's only used two to three hours a week."

The cost of transporting the machine each quarter is $1,200, but Bolton said it's still a cost-saving change compared with the machine's productivity.

Two dump trucks, water pullers and wheel loaders also are on the chopping block. The equipment could garner more than $1 million for MCAG, based on current auction value.

Supervisor Hub Walsh said Thursday's presentation gave him a better understanding of the landfill's equipment but that he has a few more questions.

"I'm still looking for some of their specific recommendations," he said. "But I thought it was informative, and I'm glad they took the time to walk us through it."

Another big change is using tarps to cover waste, which Bolton said uses less soil and conserves air space. Spreading soil over waste is a common practice to reduce litter and odor.

The Highway 59 landfill processes 750 tons of waste per day, and the Billy Wright handles 180 tons. As the county produces less trash, the landfills have seen a 30 percent drop in revenue this fiscal year.

Bolton said landfill officials didn't know operating costs for each site when he began the assessment. Without that information, it's difficult to negotiate with other counties to use Merced County's landfills.

Officials are in talks with Tuolumne County to extend its contract at the Highway 59 landfill. They also are negotiating a potential contract with the city of Turlock, which could bring an additional 70,000 tons a year.

But even with the added waste from outside contracts, Bolton said the landfills are over-equipped and wouldn't need to add more machines.

Gurpal Samra, Livingston mayor pro tem, said the presentation was helpful but that he isn't ready to make a decision yet. He said he also expected more information about the proposed employee layoffs.

"There's still a lot of unanswered questions at this point," Samra said.

"I think the consultant did a good job, but I was expecting to hear how much we would save in labor costs as well. I'm sure we'll be getting more information."

When asked if extending the landfills' weekend hours would offset costs, Bolton said it wouldn't make a difference. Both landfills close at noon on Saturdays and all day Sunday.

Bolton's contract ended May 22, and MCAG officials said they are close to hiring a landfill manager; they made an offer to a candidate this month.

A vote on the equipment cuts and potential employee layoffs is expected at next month's MCAG meeting.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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