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Homebuilders fear landfill fee increase

Paul Snyder
paul.snyder@dailyreporter.com

Homebuilders are unhappy with a proposed tipping-fee increase they say would make it even more difficult to sell new and remodeled homes.

“We’re constantly getting hit with things like impact fees and registrations from the state,” said Mike Vilstrup, president of Cross Plains-based TimberLane Builders LLC. “The more expenses we face, the more and more homes become less affordable.”

The list of damaging expenses, according to homebuilder groups, grew with a recent decision by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance to more than double the tipping fee in the proposed 2009-11 state budget. In response, those associations are preparing for a legislative battle even before the budget hits the Senate and Assembly floors.

Under the finance committee’s proposal, Wisconsin’s tipping fee, which is a state charge for dumping garbage in landfills, would increase from $5.89 per ton to $13 per ton.

State Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, and co-chairman of the committee, proposed the increase to offset what he called a “significant” deficit in the state’s recycling budget, which pays for different recycling programs in the state, said Miller’s spokesman John Anderson. Anderson said he does not know how large the deficit is.

According to Legislative Fiscal Bureau papers released last week, out-of-state waste comprises between about one-fifth and one-quarter of the garbage subject to tipping fees in Wisconsin landfills. Environmental advocates say the fee increase will discourage other states from viewing Wisconsin as a dumping ground.

But Brad Boycks, director of government and political affairs for the Wisconsin Builders Association, said increasing the fees does not help Wisconsin builders.

“Some people make the argument that this amount is nominal compared to the complete price of a home,” he said. “Maybe it’s $50 here, $100 there or $1,000 there. Well, over the course of time, those add up to substantial amounts.”

Amber Meyer Smith, program director for Clean Wisconsin Inc., said she hopes the effect on businesses’ pocketbooks inspires a stronger drive to be more efficient with waste and explore recycling opportunities.

But an increased tipping fee does not equal increased recycling, said Kent Disch, government affairs director for the Madison Area Builders Association.

“It’s not like this is the 1950s, and people are just discovering that you can recycle aluminum,” he said. “For the most part, we recycle whatever the market will allow.

“You’re getting down to a point of whatever goes into a Dumpster has to go into the Dumpster.”

But the finance committee, faced with a deficit-riddled state budget, had to find some way to generate more money for recycling, Anderson said.

“We recognize there are some people out there that don’t want to pay,” he said, “but we thought this was the best solution.”

Vilstrup disagreed, saying it only would hurt homebuilders in an already challenging economic time.

Even worse, Disch said, the increase fee could eliminate industry jobs.

“If the costs keep going up,” he said, “potential homeowners are just going to stay at home.”

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