Elkins City Council is caught between the necessity of paying the shuttered Elkins-Randolph County Landfill's operating costs each month, and the state's requirement to raise enough money to officially close the landfill, a process which will take years if it can ever be achieved.
"This is going to be a perpetual problem," City Treasurer Lisa Daniels-Smith said Monday. "There may never be enough money to close it."
The most recent figure the state Public Service Commission gave Elkins officials for how much the official closure process will cost was around $6 million. Next year's entire Elkins city budget totals $4.2 million.
Until the landfill can officially be closed, the city will have to pay employees at the site, and have leachate transported regularly. The annual operating costs for the landfill stand at $333,700, officials said.
At Monday's meeting of City Council's Sanitation/Landfill Committee, both Daniels-Smith and Mayor Van Broughton said the landfill had been losing money since the 1980s.
"The landfill has drained the system for the last 15 to 20 years," Committee Chairman Carman Metheny said. "I'm not blaming past administrations, but past administrations didn't do a lot."
"I'm disappointed that this has been allowed to happen for 20 years," Councilman Lonnie Randall said. "I'm shocked that officials let this go so long."
"If you look back at the history of the landfill, every time city officials had a choice to make about the landfill, the city made the wrong choice," Operations Manager Bob Pingley said.
The last new cell purchased for the landfill cost $1 million, of which $900,000 came from the city's general fund, Daniels-Smith said.
"Over the last 10 years, the landfill has used over $4 million from other (city) funds that will never be paid back," Daniels-Smith said. "We can't continue to do that."
"The landfill essentially closed itself" in September 2010 after that last cell was filled up, Pingley said. Officials discovered there was "no money out there" to purchase a new cell. "We didn't have much choice but to close it," he said.
City Attorney Geraldine Roberts pointed out that it is unusual now for a town to operate a landfill. She said she had asked PSC officials if there is another city in West Virginia that operates its own landfill.
"They said no," Roberts said.
She also noted that, contrary to rumor, the city was not given the landfill by the Randolph County Commission.
"It wasn't given to the city. They bought it," Roberts said, noting that she had seen a deed for the landfill. She said the city purchased it from the estate of C.E. Hough in the mid-1970s. The land had previously been strip-mined.
Roberts said another city, Huntington, has created a surcharge of $3.50 per ton to raise funds to put in escrow to officially close a landfill. She said, at that rate, Huntington will never raise enough money either.
"So the landfill stays in limbo forever, because we'll never have enough money to close it in the manner they require," Metheny said. "And so we have to pay this charge the rest of our lives and the rest of our children's lives. It's ridiculous."