Catron County Solid Waste Report
by Bill Aymar, County Manager Catron County,
As County Manager, I've spent quite a
bit of time on the phone the last few weeks
with Catron County citizens and thought
that perhaps an article in the paper might
help answer some of the questions folks
have about the solid waste program and
its recent changes.
This article isn't meant to be a complete
review of the program, just some information
that may help explain what's going on.
Years ago, the County Commissioners established
a number of landfills, using special use
permits on federal land, and I'm sure at
the time they assumed these landfills would
continue to serve the citizens of Catron
County for decades, and possibly be replaced
by similar ones should they become full.
Fast forward a little, and the changes
in the culture of the Forest Service and
BLM and ever-more stringent environmental
laws brought about the closure of the Glenwood
and Reserve landfills by the Forest Service
and, more recently, the closure of the
Pie Town landfill by the BLM.
Closing these landfills involves far more
than putting a lock on the gate, as the
New Mexico Environmental Department has
very strict closure and post closure requirements,
including engineering studies to assure
cover material density, depth, and compaction,
ground-water monitoring and test wells,
and methane gas monitoring for 30 years.
They even specify the type of vegetation
that can be planted on the covered landfill.
Noncompliance with these requirements
can result in an "administrative action" -
a fine in the neighborhood of $250,000,
which we certainly cannot afford.
So the hundreds of thousands of dollars
in closure and post closure costs become
part of the cost of the overall program-a
not so apparent cost, but a real cost nonetheless.
We calculated the costs, put together a
grant request to the state Solid Waste
Bureau for $601,000, and we received a
little over $89,000 in grants, which we
are thankful for but that fall far short
of our needs.
While the County is not required by law
to supply solid waste services, the charter
of the County Commission states that they
will provide for the health and welfare
of the citizens, and providing for the
solid waste removal certainly would seem
to fit in that criterion. Once the County
assumes the provision of services, it has
to handle the program as an "enterprise
fund" by state law, and that means
it can't have a loss in that fund - it
has to pay for itself from the fees associated
with the program.
For many years the solid waste fee was
charged at $72 per year (and I don't think
it was raised since 1996) and that allowed
citizens to dispose of their household
solid waste pretty much anytime they wanted
- we had three landfills and all was (apparently)
The forced closure of the landfills put
us in the position of having to haul our
solid waste out of the County, to Blue
Hills Environmental in St. Johns, Arizona.
Needless to say this was a far more expensive
proposition than putting all our solid
waste in the County owned landfill.
While we were considering how to make
this work it became apparent that we needed
to convert to a volume-based system, as
we had folks filling the dumpsters with
torn down houses at the same price as folks
tossing their one bag a week.
By going to a volume-based system, those
who use the facilities the most would pay
the most-as it should be. After much discussion
it was determined that continuing to bill
a $72 plus tax fee and converting from
the "mailing label" sticker to
a punch card system made the most sense.
The yearly billing gives the County a pretty
good handle on the amount of revenue we
can expect for budgetary purposes, and
a determination was made to have each punch
on the card represent three dollars, with
the $72 fee purchasing two cards with 12
punches each, for a total of $72 (plus
Using a cubic yard as the basis for the
volume, we came up with a measuring system
that was simple to implement and seems
to offer good value to the citizens. A
three dollar minimum charge (one punch)
was established for anything under one
cubic yard (3' x 3' x 3') -beyond that
the charge is six dollars (two punches)
per cubic yard. The actual measurements
and the whole solid waste ordinance can
be found at www.catroncounty.us in the
section designated ordinances.
Contrary to some rumors (in Catron County?)
there is no limit on how many times you
can use the convenience centers - it's
only limited by the number of punches on
the cards you receive. The attendants also
have the capability to accept payment at
the center - it's put in an envelope and
deposited in an "Iron Ranger" type
The system has been in place in the southern
half of the County since February 18 and
seems to be working smoothly. The same
system will be instituted in the northern
part of the County, with those who have
paid their solid waste fee being sent the
punch cards as soon as we get all the facilities
in place for the program.
As with all change, it might take a while
to adjust to the new program, and we at
the County are continuing to refine the
system to make it workable for the most
citizens. Some adjustment in habits is
probably inevitable, as taking one small
bag of solid waste a week to the center
probably doesn't make sense, and the purchase
and use of a 33 gallon plastic or metal
trashcan might make it into a twice a month
trip instead. As information, a load of
six 33 gallon trash cans is still under
a cubic yard, so a three dollar (one punch)
charge would apply.
We continue to look at the possibility
of countywide recycling, but the small
population and large geographic area make
it more of a challenge than it is in the
city setting. We intend to continue to
pursue this goal.
While this is a pretty broad overview,
I would invite you to call me at (575)
533-6423 with any specific questions you
might have. Thanks for your patience and