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September 25, 2013

Counties agree to pull plug on MOSA

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Schoharie County officials have reluctantly opted to join Otsego and Montgomery counties in breaking free from the regional trash authority known as MOSA, and state legislation will be sought giving all three counties permission to end the arrangement.

“We have agreed in principle to offering joint legislation for home rule authority, which would ultimately dissolve MOSA,” Otsego County Rep. Linda Rowinski, D-Oneonta, chairwoman of the county’s Solid Waste and Environmental Concerns Committee said Tuesday.

Schoharie County officials until recently had been hoping to keep MOSA — officially known as the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority — intact, and now have to scramble on how to proceed if the authority is no longer its partner.

The MOSA agreement binding the three counties together in the authority expires April 30, 2014.

The chairman of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors, Phil Skowfoe of Fulton, said the tense talks with Otsego and Montgomery officials have been bruising experiences, arguing those counties have been playing “hardball” and giving Schoharie no choice but to agree to seek the end of the MOSA arrangement.

“They didn’t give us any option,” Skowfoe said in an interview. “They held us hostage on the division of the assets.”

Otsego County, under the arrangement, is entitled to 40 percent of the MOSA assets. Otsego County Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, said the authority’s liquid assets total about $3.5 million, noting he would like to direct that money, once it is obtained, to completing the upgrades to Otsego County’s emergency communications network.

Schoharie County’s share of the MOSA assets is 18 percent. The remaining 42 percent from the split-up of the nearly 25-year-old authority would go to Montgomery County.

Skowfoe acknowledged that Schoharie County will now have to map plans for how to deal with trash management.

“We haven’t done any planning yet because MOSA has worked so well for us over the years,” he said.

He characterized the dissatisfaction expressed with MOSA by Otsego and Montgomery officials as “a lot of sour groups based on past practices, when MOSA wasn’t as efficient as it is now.”

Despite his raw feelings, Skowfoe said he is not going to abandon the idea of working in partnership again with the other counties.

“You can’t stay bitter,” he said.

Hans Arnold, an engineer Otsego County has retained in recent years to help it plan for its expected exit from MOSA, said “each county has to figure out the post-MOSA world.”

“The expiration of the service agreement always sounded like a long way away,” Arnold said. “Now, all of a sudden, it’s right around the corner. At that point there is no backstop for MOSA.”

While Otsego County officials have discussed forming a public-private partnership to operate the two transfer stations within the county, Arnold said no decision has been made on whether the county will have any role in its management. Arnold said he senses the Otsego County board is “split 50-50” on whether to have the county directly involved in waste management.

He said the county could continue to operate recycling programs while letting a private contractor take over the transfer stations. There will also have to be discussions on where the waste would finally end up, Arnold noted.

Otsego County Rep. Donald Lindberg, R-Worcester, questioned the county’s strategy of completely divorcing itself from MOSA, arguing more thought should have been given to the possibility of extending ties with MOSA without renewing the service agreement.

He also said he would be very leery of having the county involved in overseeing the transfer stations or trash management in general.

“It’ll be another nursing home,” said Lindberg, referencing the deficit-plagued, county-operated Otsego Manor, the 174-bed home now being marketed to private health care facility operators.

The state Legislature authorized Otsego County to leave MOSA last year, but the exit has been delayed by disagreements over the appraisal of the MOSA real estate assets.