In these tight times, it's unfathomable that a public agency would knowingly waste $30,000 a month.

Yet that's just what appears to be happening here in Sonoma County, where a bureaucratic dispute over the lease for a compost producer at the central landfill is siphoning money from [NEWS_00]the pockets of local ratepayers at the rate of about $1,000 a day.

It's not only unfathomable, it's unacceptable, and it ought to be addressed right away.

However, there's little evidence that county officials are in any particular hurry to clean up this mess of their making.

While all sides agree on the amount of money involved, the details of the conflict are almost as opaque as the dark mounds of compost at the Mecham Road landfill.

As reported Sunday by Staff Writer Jeremy Hay, the primary players are Sonoma County and the Waste Management Agency, which operates the county-owned landfill and is jointly operated by the county and local cities.

In turn, the waste agency leases space at the landfill to Sonoma Compost, a company that processes lawn clippings and other organic waste collected from local ratepayers.

Under a five-year lease extension, the agency and its ratepayers stand to save $30,000 a month.

OK, so far, so good.

When the lease came before the agency board on June 20, the vote was 9-1 in favor, with Sonoma County's representative casting the lone "no" vote. But because the Waste Management Agency's rules required the vote to be unanimous, the contract was rejected.

Lacking votes to extend the lease, the existing agreement was extended for four months.

And over those four months, as Windsor Town Manager Matt Mullan, a waste agency board member, said, "we are going to spend $120,000 more than we have to."

"Each city is going to bear that burden, and the county," Mullan said.

Why?

County officials say they didn't have enough time before the vote to review the lease for the compost operator at the landfill. They say there are liability and indemnity issues to be worked out and that the compost company's space may be needed for landfill operations before its lease would expire in 2017.

But other board members were ready to vote, and the agency's director says the county had several months to raise its concerns.

"They actually recommended the model to us so there was a dialogue that took place," Henry Mikus, the waste agency's executive director, told Hay. "It's not like they were ambushed; the fact that a new lease came was not a surprise."

Supervisors Mike McGuire and David Rabbit told Hay there are critical issues to be reviewed, but there has yet to be any clear explanation of why the county didn't do so before the waste agency scheduled the vote.

Where are we left? Well, the meter is running, and Sonoma County ratepayers are footing the bill.