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Waste haulers taking a free ride

Roll-off boxes such as these are contributing to the increase at the transfer stations. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Closing two large area businesses in recent years dropped the tonnage of municipal solid waste going to Hubbard County's transfer stations.

Along with it went the corresponding income.

Potlatch and Pamida kept a steady flow of waste and funds moving along.

The waste stream continues to flow these days, but it's a free ride for waste haulers, solid waste superintendent Vern Massie informed the Hubbard County board Wednesday, leaving his department in dire need of a cash infusion.

"Right now we're $100,000 in the hole but we need to borrow," Massie said. "We did the same thing last year. So I won't be back until April, I need $300,000."

The $700,000 the department gets in tax settlement funds every six months isn't stretching far enough, Massie told the board, when fixed costs are exceeding $100,000 a month. Those include salaries, a contract with the Developmental Achievement Center to handle recyclables and a contract with Waste Management, Inc. to haul the refuse to a Gwinner, N.D., landfill.

On July 1 those landfill and hauling costs rose.

Commissioners debated how to handle the freeloaders and the deficit.

"We need to know the bottom line," commissioner Cal Johannsen said. "Is it a cash flow problem or are we moving backwards?"

Although two recent purchases depleted the department's reserves, commissioners worried that a gradual backsliding of revenue might be occurring. Those purchases were of land adjacent to the south transfer station and grinding up piles of concrete from construction projects.

The concrete is for sale and although sales are steady, the money trickles in at a much smaller rate than the $160,000 it cost to grind it up, Massie said.

Meanwhile six waste haulers have made up that lost tonnage from Pamida and Potlatch, Massie claims, but they're not paying their way.

"The majority of people are getting a bang for their buck," Johannsen said of the solid waste assessments taxpayers pay.

But taxpayers have long complained that residents of adjoining towns and counties dump their garbage locally and for free, even though technically they should have a paid permit to do so.

"The waste haulers are bigger violators than a person coming over" the county line, Massie said.

He recently undertook his own investigation and found roll-off boxes in Osage, Ponsford and Menahga that were using the Hubbard County transfer stations.

"Wadena (County) has decreased 60 tons going to the incinerator" in Perham, Massie said. "I think that's 60 tons we're getting."

Increasing the solid waste assessment would help, but a flat fee imposed on waste haulers would be more equitable, the board discussed.

"Residents will pay for it twice," Johannsen said of increasing the solid waste assessment. "They'd pay it in taxes and pay their hauler."

Commissioner Dick Devine, who pays a waste hauler to dispose of his refuse, said, "I get what I pay for but to make everybody pay for those who want hauling isn't fair."

Devine said if the haulers pass any rate increase onto their customers as expected with a fee increase, customers have the option to haul their own trash for free.

Commissioners questioned whether a "pow wow" with waste haulers would be productive.

Commissioner Kathy Grell said the county wants to ensure the department "is a viable entity moving forward."

"We know the heavy loads are coming to us and the light loads are going out of town," Massie said.

"If we find they're doing it they're not going to do it any more," Devine said firmly.

"We need to play hardball," Johannsen agreed. "If they don't stop we'll stop them."

Meanwhile, as the transfer station moves to shortened winter hours and half days Saturdays, the Public Works department offered a bridge loan.

The Natural Resources Department, a branch of Public Works, recently made $448,129.44 on the last timber auction of the year, held Oct. 1.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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