More discussion took place during a public hearing July 6 by the Board of County Commissioners on a proposed ordinance on landfill host fees rates for the Western Elite landfill and the one at Toquop, which is used by the City of Mesquite.

A commission board subcommittee determined rates of $1.35 should be charged for Class I (household and hazardous wastes) and Class II materials. Class III materials (solid industrial wastes) would be charged 15 cents per ton.

Representatives for the City of Mesquite, Virgin Valley Waste Disposal, City of Mesquite Public Works, and Western Elite were on hand to give their comments.

Bob Sweetin, Mesquite City Attorney, said the city feels they should be exempt from the new landfill host fees ordinance.

“The reason we believe that,” he said, “is because we have a separate settlement agreement from 1993 and this ordinance would breach that agreement, and the fact that we are a municipal landfill creates additional issues that would make this ordinance inapplicable to us.”

A second point Sweetin made said there are language issues with the ordinance as it has been drafted, and thirdly, the City of Mesquite should be exempted from the ordinance.

The third point was the easiest to achieve he said, by simply putting language into the ordinance declaring the City of Mesquite to be exempt. “We believe there are legitimate government interests that are served here, and it would be easily defensible in court,” he said.

Asked what the legitimate government interests were, Sweetin explained, “that during under an equal protection claim, the other landfill companies, (Western Elite and Recology) would have to complain of not being treated the same as Mesquite. We believe the pre-existing settlement agreement from 1993, in and of itself does away with any dual protection claim the other landfill operators might try to use. Another point he raised is that Mesquite is a municipality versus Western Elite and Recology being private companies.

He said that a host fee is “essentially a tax, and government entities don’t generally tax other government entities, so we think that is the other legitimate government interest. Those are the main ones, among others.”

District Attorney Daniel Hooge, when questioned by Commissioners, did have to admit the host fee indeed is a tax.

Las Vegas-based attorney Donald Williams, counsel for Virgin Valley Disposal, said he didn’t think Recology or Western Elite would care if the City of Mesquite were exempted, and in the 1993 agreement, host fees were not even contemplated, and should not be imposed on the city now because “it would take us to a level of unfairness.”

Sweetin said if commissioners were not inclined to grant an exemption, then the City of Mesquite will ask for a one-year moratorium during which time the issues they have raised can be worked out, “to make an agreement that would be beneficial to both parties, and we stand ready and willing to work with Lincoln County to get something that will work for both parties, and it should not be hard to accomplish.

Hooge said the proposed ordinance does not tax the city, but does impose a tax on the landfill operators, and is very similar to the possessory use tax law.

Scott Seastrand, Western Elite vice-president, said they don’t mind paying a host fee, but do want it to be a fair market value. “We have a put in a recommendation for a host fee agreement and are reasoning on doing it on a percentage, based on the local market we compete with.”

Western Elite does have a Class I license, but does not have any customers as yet, Seastrand said, “and we need to have the host fee costs compatible with what is currently happening now.”

He said they could pay a Class I fee, but would then ask not to be charged for Class 3 materials. “It would add to our competitive difficulty in being so far away from the Las Vegas market, and in addition it would affect our ability to make the contributions to the county we have been making to the Youth Fund.”

Recology, the waste hauler for Lincoln County, did not attend the meeting, because as Commissioner Paul Mathews pointed out, they already have a detailed 99-year contract with the county.

Commissioners took no action on the agenda item, wanting more time to work on it and will look at it as a work in progress.

In the meantime, District Attorney Hooge gave an opposing view, saying that while he thought the arguments presented by both Western Elite and the City of Mesquite are valid, the task of the commission subcommittee, of which he is a member, “is to figure out how to pay the garbage bill. With more than half the population of the county making under $2,000 a month, we have a garbage bill that is doubling every 10 years, so by 2025, the bill will be $500 a month, and by 2035, it will be $1,000 a month, and our people can’t pay it. My office is one that gets a lot of the phone calls of people who cannot pay their bill because it is too high.”

The industry standard for landfills is to have a host fee, he explained, and Lincoln County ought to be charging for them as well. “Our recommendation to the board, after several meetings, was if we get a little help from the businesses, then it would help out the citizens of Lincoln County, but if you don’t do this, how are you going to solve the garbage problem?”