ALBANY -- City lawmakers on Monday again rejected a crucial borrowing measure to allow the city to continue the Rapp Road Landfill expansion, dealing another blow to Mayor Jerry Jennings’ administration and once again leaving the future of the controversial facility in doubt.
The roadblock prompted supporters of the $1.35 million bonding ordinance to charge that their colleagues are setting the city up for a fiscal nightmare -- and possibly a control board -- if the full, seven-year expansion isn’t completed.
“This is an extremely serious situation for the budget -- for the present and future,” said Council Majority Leader Daniel Herring, adding that opponents have put forward “no responsible proposal.”
The defeat came with a cruel twist for backers of the ordinance, who believed they had secured the 10 votes needed to pass it when Councilwoman Cathy Fahey, who voted against it in March 15, said she would reluctantly support it.
But their hopes were dashed when Councilwoman Jackie Jenkins-Cox, who supported it last time, voted “no.” It failed 6-9.
Jenkins-Cox, who represents the 5th Ward in West Hill, said she changed her vote after hearing from three constituents Friday about the increasingly heavy tax burden the city is foisting on them.
“If we keep voting to pass bond after bond, it’s only going to increase their taxes,” she said. “I think my constituents are going to be happy that I did this for them.”
The turnabout prompted Councilman Lester Freeman, who opposes the borrowing, to openly celebrate with a fist pump and broad smile as Jenkins-Cox registered her vote, which clearly stunned others.
Joining Jenkins-Cox and Freeman voting no were Council members Barbara Smith, Leah Golby, Dominick Calsolaro and Anton Konev.
The ordinance would have authorized the city to borrow money for professional fees associated with the 15-acre expansion into the Pine Bush.
Phase one of that expansion, already underway, will give the city two more years of landfill space, officials have said. Phase two, which is currently in the planning stages, could extend that life to between seven and nine years.
For years, and by many accounts, Albany has relied heavily on landfill revenue to subsidize its daily operations, but opponents of the borrowing question how lucrative the facility truly is when the city has never fully accounted for the costs of running it. The added debt, they warn, may not be worth it.
To that end, the council earlier in the evening unanimously approved an ordinance to move the city toward so-called full-cost accounting in hopes of better understanding the impact of the landfill on city finances.
But one major sticking point remains how the city plans to pay for $18 million in Pine Bush restoration required by state environmental regulators in exchange for the expansion permit.
Some council members oppose the city’s plan to borrow for that, saying that Albany should instead literally interpret the permit and levy a $10 fee on each ton dumped at the landfill -- taking the full burden off taxpayers.
“I want to see compromise on the $10 tipping fee,” Freeman said. “That’s it.”
Landfill officials, however, have argued that raising the dumping fee $10 would cause the city to hemorrhage business, hurting taxpayer’s even more.
“We’re dealing with a reality of what’s going to happen in this city not in 2016, what’s going to happen in this city in six months,” Councilman John Rosenzweig said.
“I’m dying to hear what the options are.”
Published in May/June Newsletter 2010