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MOSA: Setting the record straight

Saturday, August 17, 2013 - Updated: 4:09 AM


For the Recorder

In an article regarding the Montgomery, Otsego and Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority, MOSA, in the July 25 edition of The Recorder, Page 4, it was reputed that Amsterdam City Mayor Thane publically stated that "MOSA recently decided that the authority that had been established for each of the involved counties was not beneficial anymore, Thane said, so it is withdrawing its services altogether." Being concerned about this statement, I called the mayor's office and Mayor Thane told me that that was not her comment and that is not what she believes.

That something was "lost in translation" is not my issue with this bit of misinformation, however; it is my obligation to set the record straight and provide some illumination if possible to this current situation.

Historically MOSA was created in 1989 by the counties of Montgomery, Otsego and Schoharie for the operation and maintenance of existing landfills; creation of a new landfill, and; day-to-day operations of the five localized transfer stations. From all appearances it seems that the municipal authority began with good intentions and efficient management. Simplistically, MOSA is controlled by a board of directors composed of three appointed members from Montgomery, three from Otsego, and two from Schoharie County; this board directs and oversees an executive director who manages the daily operations and the hard-working staff. The MOSA board operates by majority rule, meaning that five like-minded members can control the actions and success of the entire authority.

From my experience of having served on the MOSA board since 2008, it is my opinion that MOSA's history can be generalized into three parts: approximately the first five years; the middle 15 years, and; the past four years and this current year. As stated, it appears that the early years were productive under original administration. At the beginning of the "middle years" a new executive director was appointed and it appears that operations slid slowly yet steadily into bureaucratic complexity and inefficiency. It is my humble opinion that the various boards, majorities of five, failed to exercise their supervisory role over the executive director and to provide expectations of high standards of operation. Because of this lack of board leadership, many issues were manhandled; thousands were spent on questionable studies and engineering reports, and; the relationships between MOSA and the member counties were strained -- sometimes severely so.

Four or five years ago circumstances caused a change in board membership whereby three new members were appointed to fill expired terms and vacancy. Most fortunately these three new directors were like-minded with a long-standing minority director and now four directors shared the same progressive ideology and the voting majority of the past was finally broken; a new day for MOSA was at hand. In ensuing months and with outstanding diplomacy from Schoharie County representative, another seat became available and was filled by a soft-spoken man with high integrity; this allowed for a parliamentary shift from Otsego-Schoharie majority to a new Schoharie-Montgomery majority and hope for change.

Change came in the form of elimination of second-in-command position of director of operations; a long-standing lawsuit was settled; the executive director was voted no-confidence and removed -- being temporarily replaced with a brilliant woman from Canajoharie; a severe health and safety condition at the Oneonta transfer station was rectified; an exorbitant plan for new facility construction was scrapped; an expensive engineering study was scrapped; safety and occupational training was improved; a substantially cheaper "transportation and disposal" contract was negotiated; a highly experienced no-nonsense executive director was hired; millions in long-term debt was paid-off years early; an in-depth "post closure" plan and agreement was developed and approved for eternal care of existing landfills and; expansion of services in Otsego County were accomplished with improvements to the northern transfer station. All of this happened by the determination of the MOSA authority and its dedicated employees. In the past four years the cost of disposal of a ton of garbage to taxpayers in the three counties has fallen from $106 to $64 -- at the same time that new programs have been enacted to reclaim lumber, metals, electronics and general recyclables.

Most unfortunately, however, those bad middle years took a heavy toll on public perception and instilled some apparent bitter feelings with a handful of Otsego County officials. MOSA was the last to know when Otsego County filed legislation in Albany to break their contractual obligations with Schoharie and Montgomery and to leave MOSA before the April 2014 termination date. Otsego's desire to leave MOSA does not appear to be an issue of efficiency or saving money; two years ago MOSA offered Otsego County a proposal for a recycling contract that was $100,000 less than what was finally accepted. Political hatred must run deep.

As to the future and to the question as to where your garbage will go from your curbside -- the concept of a local solid waste authority is still valid and is more efficient now than it has ever been. The transfer stations in Amsterdam, Randall and Cobleskill are well designed and maintained and conveniently located. Macro-economics in the solid waste industry appears to favor continued use of existing landfills throughout the state and continued efforts to improve and increase recycling and reclamation will ultimately reduce waste volume to optimal levels.

Amsterdam city and Montgomery County are free to invest thousands in studies to explore waste disposal options, as long as the citizens of Montgomery County realize that nothing in life stays the same; today's MOSA is not yesterday's management. MOSA is doing more with less and has every intention of continuing to provide the service, employment and leadership that every taxpayer should demand.

JOHN MATTAS is Amsterdam city representative

on the MOSA board of directors.


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