Earlier this week on The Debrief Podcast a discussion about the future of Seneca Meadows in the town of Seneca Falls prompted co-host Ted Baker to pose a question about the Town’s financial future. It spurred concern from activists who have sought to see Local Law 3 of 2016 followed- and Seneca Meadows Landfill closed in 2025.
The question: Should residents be worried about landfill revenue and its impact on future taxes?
The Town receives money from Seneca Meadows through a host agreement. The money has not been budgeted in its entirety in recent years, despite some claims otherwise. For a number of years, the host agreement has meant upwards of $3 million (or more) annually being sent to the Town by Seneca Meadows.
Here’s how much host agreement money has been used in the Town’s budget:
The proposal for 2022, so far, has indicated using $1,091,948 from the host agreement with Seneca Meadows for the Town’s budget. That has not been finalized yet.
Leftover revenue from the host agreement with Seneca Meadows has been placed into reserves, or used for various infrastructure projects. To date, the Town has approximately $9.9 million in reserve.
Advocates say the approach has been simple: Slowly remove landfill revenue from the Town’s budget equation each year. The idea being that while doing so taxes will not increase sharply at one time.
So, will $3 million be removed from the Town’s budget if the landfill closed? No. Not under the philosophy that the Town Board has operated in budgeting since 2018. If a future Town Board opted to use more of the landfill revenue, then that could be entirely possible.
What about the state’s role in closure? Will they allow Seneca Meadows to shutter in 2025?
A letter from Former State Senator Mike Nozzolio, dated March 30, 2016 when Local Law 3 was in the headlines for its adoption, breaks down the exact powers of the Town and New York State, as it moves through the process of enacting a Local Law 3, and mandating closure of Seneca Meadows.
“At my request, a legal analysis was conducted reviewing the applicable laws of New York State, the United States Code, local land use law, including the code of Seneca Falls, the Permit issued by the Town of Seneca Falls, and the Host Agreement the Town of Seneca Falls entered into with Seneca Meadows Landfill,” the letter to then-Town Board members begins. Counsel to the New York State Senate oversaw the review.
“While the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation can provide technical information, the Town of Seneca Falls is clearly the only appropriate government entity with the power and authority to compel Seneca Meadows to comply with Town law, and the Host Agreement, including site planning, permits, land use questions, and [future construction].”
In short, ‘home rule’ trumps any pressures that New York State might feel about one of the largest landfills closing.
What did that state Senate analysis find?
“The Town of Seneca Falls is the exclusive entity with the power and legal authority to determine the site location of a landfill, and whether such a landfill will be allowed to operate within its jurisdiction. Throughout our Nation’s history, our laws rightfully require critically important zoning and land use decisions to be made at the local government level. The New York State Senate has always been respectful of those laws. The enforcement of actions taken by local zoning boards, planning boards and Town Boards in their issuance of permits and other agreements, must be undertaken by the locality, and in the question posed by this analysis, that is the elected members of the Seneca Falls Town Board.”
To be clear there is follow-up reporting to be done regarding the state’s role in closure.
Will New York State abide by existing legal precedent and home rule? Based on the Nozzolio letter and Senate Counsel analysis, the answer is the State should follow Seneca Falls’ lead. If Local Law 3 is on the books, then New York would have to abide by it, as much as the Town and Seneca Meadows would.
We’ve reached out to the DEC for clarification. A spokesperson in Albany told us that an update would come sometime next week.