Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission criticized

Group warned to watch spending

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com

LOUDON — The Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission needs to watch its spending, particularly on legal expenses, County Trustee Chip Miller told members of the panel Tuesday. “Start cleaning up your own house,” Miller said.

Instead of trying to invest its way out of a projected shortfall in closing costs for the Matlock Bend Landfill, commissioners should look at how much it is spending. “You can start with your budget,” said Miller, who attended the meeting to discuss investment options for the funds needed to close the landfill.

He said he was surprised to learn that a recent lunch meeting sponsored by the Solid Waste Disposal Commission cost thousands of dollars in legal fees alone.

According to the legal billing records, between 2007 and 2012 the commission paid about $249,212 in legal expenses to the Knoxville law firm of Kennerly Montgomery and Finley. During the same period, the landfill’s closure/post-closure fund balance has remained flat, records show.
In July, legal billings to the waste commission totaled about $7,448, which includes $1,247 for a lunch meeting between waste commission Chairman Steve Field and commissioners, attorney Kevin Stevens, county Mayor Estelle Herron, Miller and county attorney Robert Bowman. The amount did not include Bowman’s legal billings or the cost of the lunch. Legal billings for the year total about $53,700.
Loudon activist Pat Hunter criticized commissioners for excessive legal spending. She said that of all the county government meetings she attends, the waste commission is the only body that has an attorney attending every meeting.
Field said he agreed with Hunter about looking at legal expenses.

Kevin Stevens, attorney for the commission, said recent billings have been high for several reasons, one of which is the commission is trying to renegotiate a contract with Santek, the company that manages the landfill. Stevens also has had to address issues such as the death of cattle on a farm near the landfill.

A recent audit confirmed that the commission has not been accruing enough funds to close the landfill. The long-term investment fund sits at about $1.5 million. Closure estimates range from about $8 million to $10 million. The commission is looking to invest closure funds for a higher rate of return.
Miller said that he was against investing landfill closure funds for a period longer than two years.
Commissioner Bill Waldrop questioned Miller about the possibility of investing funds for as long five years. A certificate of deposit for five years will pay twice the interest of a two-year CD, he said.
Miller said he believes interest rates may rise in the next year and cautioned against investments of longer than two years.
According Blake Fontenay, spokesperson for the state comptroller’s office, the county may make investments with longer maturities if various restrictions set out in state law are followed.