11:45 PM PST on Saturday, November 27, 2010

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

Cash-strapped Riverside County is considering a plan to sell or lease two of its landfills in an effort to generate as much as $100 million in new revenue.

“We have to look at everything,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Marion Ashley said. “We have to figure out how to maximize our revenues.”

Supervisors approved the county’s current budget in August and balanced it with $71 million in cuts and $62 million in reserves. Under a two-year plan to reduce reliance on reserves, more cuts are expected next year.

But the budget picture continues to worsen. Based on three months of data, county officials have said five departments could end the fiscal year in June with $46.7 million more in expenditures than revenues.

As a result, officials are scrambling to find revenue wherever they can.

Supervisors earlier this month approved hiring a consultant to analyze the county’s waste management department and send requests to private companies interested in buying or leasing the landfills.

The county owns six landfills and has an agreement to dispose of waste in a seventh, privately owned facility in Corona.

Ashley said the county will consider options for the Badlands landfill on Ironwood Avenue north of Moreno Valley and the Lamb Canyon landfill just off Highway 79 south of Beaumont. Both are in Ashley’s district.

The supervisor stressed that much is yet to be decided. But he said he hopes the county can find at least two interested bidders and that any potential deal could bring as much as $100 million in new money.

The supervisor said any sale could include a royalty system in which the county would receive ongoing revenues. Ashley said he also would like to see protections to keep dump fees reasonable for county residents.

He said the county could use the influx of one-time money to help offset current budget cuts or help fund capital projects such as a proposed 2,000-bed, $350 million hub jail.

Two of the county’s largest unions, though, are keeping a close eye on the county’s plans.

The Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 777 represents 143 employees in the county’s waste management department.

“The county, given its current financial situation, is going to be looking at a lot of options,” business manager Stephen Switzer said.

But he said the union wants the county to know the exact value of the services the department’s employees provide. Switzer also said the union wants to maintain decent wages and benefits for the employees.

“If a sale were to occur, we would want those employees to remain LIUNA members,” Switzer said. “We would want them to have the same job.”

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