October 8, 2012
Honorable Members of the City Council:
Old Kings Road Landfill is run under contract by Advanced Disposal to either recycle or store all of the yard waste picked up in Duval County. The various waste haulers pay about $17 a ton to Advanced when they drop off the waste. Advanced is supposed to recycle most of it by processing it into things like mulch so that the landfill will last longer. Anything that is not recycled and remains on site is subject to a $7.16 per ton "host fee" which Advanced pays to the City of Jacksonville for having to keep it at the landfill forever.
In the last few years Advanced has claimed very large amounts of material was "recycled" because it was purportedly used for "filtration" in the landfill or for either "intermediate cover" (i.e., yard waste being used instead of dirt to cover other yard waste at the landfill as the mound is built) or "final cover" (yard waste used instead of dirt to "cap" a cell of the yard waste landfill). In the attached report for the year 2008 (part of the annual application for permit renewal to run the landfill) Advanced admits none of the material it claims as "recycled" is leaving the site, which is the whole point behind recycling; the reports for 2009, 2010, and 2011, also attached, fail to mention that fact but it is still the case. All four of these attached reports (which each contain the word "Old" in the filename) are from the state DEP digitized record system, OCULUS. Earlier records are on the system but are not in PDF.
By claiming that 456,931 tons of the total yard waste taken in from 1/1/2008 to 12/31/2011 of 489,081.4 tons was "recycled," when it was not, Advanced Disposal avoided paying the citizens of this county $3.27 million dollars out of the roughly $8 million it collected in tipping fees. While I have not found the records for 2007 and earlier, I have sources who say the same scheme was employed for at least a year before 2008. I also do not have the monthly records for 2012, but assuming a constant rate of use of the landfill another $70,000 a month in host fees should be due, or $630,000 for the first nine months of this year. If 2007 is confirmed to involve another 100,000 tons, the total due to the City is over $4.6 million out of the roughly $11 million that Advanced took in over the same period in fees from the haulers (all of which was passed on to businesses and residents). Citizens forced to pay higher solid waste disposal fees (i.e., garbage taxes) have every reason to be angry at a contractor that overcharges in this way.
This would be scandal enough, but in May the Acting Chief of the Jacksonville Solid Waste Division drafted a letter bringing up concerns that Advanced Disposal was not returning the full share it owed. Attached are documents [OKRLF YF Recycling E-mail Train.pdf] I received from Mr. Crescimbeni on Tuesday afternoon – his source was Acting Solid Waste Chief Jeffrey Foster, in response to a formal records request from the council member (but only delivered after the Finance Committee meeting). Foster told John by telephone on Friday, September 28, that he thought Advanced's accumulated unpaid host fees were on the order of one or two million dollars. Curiously, when Mr. Crescimbeni later asked Foster on October 2 in the Finance Committee meeting if he could put a number to the estimated revenue involved, Foster claimed he was unable to do so. The letter calling attention to the matter from Foster was sent to Public Works Director Jim Robinson for approval, and there are a number of e-mail follow-ups from Foster in the documents. Yet when I personally spoke to Jim Robinson about the host fee issue on Monday, October 1, 2012, he denied any knowledge of it and claimed that Solid Waste was so "technical" an area that in his six months on the job he had really just let them handle things on their own, while he dealt with public buildings.
In February 2012, as noted in the unsent draft letter by Mr. Foster to Advanced Disposal, DEP inspected the Old Kings Road Landfill and notified Mr. Foster of its concerns about the disposal of yard waste there. While I have been told that the local head of DEP, Michael Fitzsimmons, also sent correspondence to Advanced Disposal in the last eight months on the same subject, my public records requests have so far been unsuccessful. If I obtain such documents I will forward them.
Meanwhile, Ordinance 2012-569 is pending before you to award nearly $700,000 in incentives (which I style "corporate welfare") in the form of QTI and other taxpayer subsidies to Advanced Disposal for expanding their Jacksonville corporate offices and theoretically creating 85 jobs. Both personally and as President of the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County (and for that matter as a candidate for public office) I urge those of you on the Finance Committee to continue to postpone voting on this award until the issue of unpaid host fees is completely resolved. If 2012-569 should reach you all as the full City Council for a vote either Tuesday night or in the future without a determination of what Advanced owes and receipt of payment, then the ordinance should be defeated on the same grounds.
There is every appearance that information about these matters was being suppressed within the administration for unknown reasons, and I am disgusted that any public officials now fawn over the landfill operator to "reassure" them that their corporate welfare is not in danger. When it strongly appears that a corporate citizen, performing a core function of government as a contractor, has evaded its obligation to pay the local government under the contract, we should not reward bad behavior with a public bribe to expand its operations. If business considerations justify expansion by Advanced Disposal in Jacksonville it will expand with or without the QTI; if the real price of that expansion is for the City to ignore the potential millions owed in host fees, as well, then that corrupt price is far too high.
Finally, I send separately a resolution of the board of directors of the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, unanimously adopted, urging you to delay approval of 2012-569 until the host fee issue is resolved. We thank you for your careful consideration of the foregoing and the accompanying documentation.
John Winkler, President, Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County
Cc: Honorable Cindy Laquidara, General Counsel