Draft trash ordinance sparks hostility

commissioner and board member clash

When David Saline offered a draft of an ordinance framing Torrance County’s handling of solid waste to the Torrance County Commission, it sparked a hostile reaction from one commissioner.

Saline and two others were appointed to a committee by the commission; that committee was tasked with coming up with draft revisions of the county’s solid waste ordinance, then bringing it back to the commission.

Torrance County contracts with EVSWA for trash collection and disposal, through transfer stations around the county. The Solid Waste Authority also charges Torrance County a “tipping fee” for disposal of its trash at the landfill. Fees for residents are set by the county commission.

The committee was made up of the three members of the EVSWA board who represent the county: Saline, along with former commissioner Leanne Tapia, and county manager Joy Ansley.

The Solid Waste Authority is not part of Torrance County, although the county is one of the member entities making up the quasi-governmental agency.

On the committee, Saline represented the county. However, that didn’t satisfy one commissioner, Julia DuCharme, who said she was “questioning [Saline’s] impartiality,” adding that she thought he had the interest of the Solid Waste Authority in mind in offering the proposed revisions, not the county’s.

DuCharme has been a vocal critic of the Solid Waste Authority, as has her husband, who represents the city of Moriarty on the EVSWA board.

The revisions the committee offered would formally separate the Solid Waste Authority from the county by changing language in the county ordinance that mention it by name, Saline said.

The committee worked with county attorney Dennis Wallin, who wrote the revisions in the existing ordinance to form the draft. Adoption of the ordinance requires the commission to hold a public hearing, which it has on the agenda for its Jan. 13 meeting.

The committee set goals, Saline said, adding, “No. 1 was making sure that [the ordinance] separated Torrance County and the Solid Waste Authority from each other—they are two different entities. Solid Waste does provide a service to Torrance County.”

Rather than naming EVSWA as the provider of solid waste disposal for the county, the draft would remove that language altogether, specifying instead that the county get an actual cost “to collect, transport, recycle [and] dispose of such waste,” then provide the funding to cover that cost. Any contractor could provide the service, Saline said.

In making the committee’s presentation to the county, Saline offered some details on customers of the Solid Waste Authority. He said there are 3,952 current accounts—“paid up to date, not behind, residents currently using the system.”

Saline said there are 967 accounts with liens on them; of those, he said 450 will pay off the balance and have the liens released within a year. He said about 150 accounts are on the lien list because the county does not have a current address.

He finished by saying that about 150 accounts are on the lien list because they are refusing to pay.

DuCharme first asked Saline if he knew why those 150 refused to pay the fees. When Saline said he didn’t know, she asked if he should find out.

“I’m a volunteer—I’m not going to knock on doors to collect money for the county,” Saline responded.

“This decision was already made last year to go for RFP [request for proposals],” DuCharme said, asking the county manager why that had not yet happened.

Ansley said county staff had not been given enough clarity or details to hire a consultant. “We asked for help and clarification and never received it,” she said.

DuCharme asked whether Lincoln County had gone out for an RFP. “Yes, and I think their private company declared bankruptcy,” Ansley answered. “It didn’t work out so well for Lincoln County.”

“Now I’m hearing frankly another excuse,” DuCharme said, then turning her attention back to Saline: “When you were writing, making those revisions, were you making them as a representative of Torrance County, or as a representative of Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority?”

“I was making revisions as a representative of Torrance County, not the Solid Waste Authority,” Saline said. “This ordinance has nothing to do with the Solid Waste Authority other than it tells them how to operate your system.”

Saline said if the county wants to lower the fees for residents, “the commission is going to have to start dedicating some money to the solid waste fund.”

“Why are you asking the county to subsidize [EVSWA]?” DuCharme asked.

“I’m not asking you to,” Saline responded.

DuCharme then questioned some language in the draft ordinance before again turning her attention to Saline: “Mr. Saline, you are calling yourself a volunteer on the board. Do you do business with the Solid Waste Authority?”

Saline confirmed that he does business with EVSWA. “Yes, I do, and I’ve disclosed this to the commission, but it has nothing to do with the ordinance we’re sitting here before,” Saline said.

“How much money did you make doing business with the Authority last year?” DuCharme asked.

“This has nothing to do with this ordinance over here,” Saline repeated. “Where are you going with this?”

“I’m questioning your impartiality,” DuCharme replied.

“Okay, so do you have some kind of wrongdoing on my behalf?” Saline asked.

DuCharme said no, but asked Saline to “disclose again.”

She was interrupted by Wallin, who said, “These are personal issues. This is not part of a discussion of a proposed ordinance, and I really think it’s inappropriate, Madame Commissioner, to ask Mr. Saline that.”

DuCharme insisted that she would continue as tempers continued to heat up.

“That’s your opinion on here,” Saline retorted, adding, “This is only a draft. You can change it any way you want. … This is my opinion on what needs to happen and the committee’s opinion on what needs to happen. You don’t like it—change it. You get paid $30,000 a year, I’m a volunteer. Do your job.”

“I am paid $26,000,” DuCharme said, as commission chair LeRoy Candelaria and Wallin protested that her comments were not appropriate for the agenda item at hand, and as DuCharme continued to press her point.

“Yes, I’m paid per diem for the Solid Waste Authority,” Saline said. “It has nothing to do with the ordinance. If you don’t like it, take it, rip it, throw it away. You can go wipe your ass with it for all I care.” He then walked away.

Saline said in a Tuesday interview that he makes $30 a month as his per diem allowance for serving on the Solid Waste Authority’s board.

The commission took no action, other than setting a public hearing Jan. 13.