the Albany Common Council prepares for its third vote on the
bonding ordinances that will fund the next phase of expansion
of the Rapp Road landfill, it appears that the small bloc
of progressives and council freshmen who have voted twice
against the borrowing bills has possibly been broken. To secure
support for the ordinances, members of the council leadership
and the Jennings administration have been working behind the
scenes, warning the council that if they don’t pass the bonding
ordinances immediately, Albany could face bankruptcy, a devalued
bond rating and even the dreaded control board.
While these are heady, legitimate, concerns for the council
to consider, what is needed now is not a rush to compromise.
By holding out on authorizing the bonding, this bloc of six
legislators won surprising victories against the bullish administration,
cracking open the opaque management of the landfill, and directing
the city’s conversation to the long-term vision for waste
management once the landfill is finally closed. When the ordinances
come back up for vote on Monday, these members must continue
their opposition. The reasons for this are simple.
First, the holdouts have yet to receive from City Hall the
information that they have been demanding for months. As freshman
Councilwoman Leah Golby has been telling Metroland
since she lodged her first “no” vote, she has too many troubling
questions about the landfill to support the bonding. These
questions, shared by many of her colleagues, include the landfill’s
finances and operations, its environmental impact, its estimated
lifespan, and so on. As late as this Tuesday, Golby e-mailed
a list of 20 yet-unanswered questions to council leadership.
Remember, it’s not the holdouts on the council who have brought
the city to this perilous fiscal situation—that blame lies
squarely with the administration. For years, the administration
has operated the landfill in a combatively territorial manner,
directing the landfill’s revenue into the general fund, where
it has been used to plug holes in the budget that ought to
have been addressed through other means. Through expansion
after expansion, the Jennings administration has been devastating
the globally rare Pine Bush ecosystem for a specious profit.
Which leads us to the most critical point for holding out
on the bonding votes. As ordered by the state Department of
Environmental Conservation, the city must pony up roughly
$18 million for the Pine Bush restoration project. As it currently
stands, the full weight of that cost will be placed, through
borrowing, onto the heads of Albany taxpayers. However, the
city has the option to mitigate this cost by leveling the
DEC-ordered $10 surcharge on every ton brought into the landfill
by its largest customers, haulers Allied Waste and County
The council’s General Services Committee is considering, as
a compromise, a nonbinding resolution that includes language
urging the administration to seek an increase in tipping fees
paid by the commercial haulers. The administration continues
to argue, however, that the negotiating tipping fees is a
delicate process, and that any increase could drive the haulers
As Councilman Mike O’Brien points out, that is a suspicious
claim. Where would they go? Colonie runs at near capacity,
and the nearest landfills are hours away on the interstate.
Considering the cost of transportation and fuel, it is hard
to believe that a $5 or $10 increase would tip the scales
for the haulers.
Only four years ago it came to light that the administration
had cut a deal with Allied Waste to drop the company’s tipping
fee from $46 a ton to $38. The administration, according to
a Times Union article, defended the move by claiming
that Allied had threatened to discontinue its dealings with
the city and instead haul its trash elsewhere if the city
wouldn’t meet its price demands. Today, the city charges Allied
$47 a ton and the company still dumps 300 tons a day. The
concern that they will go elsewhere seems to have been overplayed.
And now, the Times Union is reporting that County Waste
is open to renegotiating a higher tipping fee, despite the
dramatic claims made by the administration that $47 was the
most they could possibly get. This, too, casts doubt on the
validity of information coming out of the Jennings administration.
taxpayers deserve more than what we are giving them,” said
freshman Councilwoman Jackie Jenkins-Cox. “It is time to give
them a break. If they choose to go somewhere else, let them
go somewhere else. At this point, we need to make a stand
for the city of Albany.”
We ask the council holdouts to stand their ground until they
have won, not a tepid compromise, but an outright victory.
By not relenting, they will have the negotiating power to
ensure that the administration acts appropriately on behalf
of the city’s taxpayers.