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County board debates solid waste fees, recycle bids

Scavenging in the scrap metal has been an issue for county officials. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

As deposits to the county landfill reach the horizon, Hubbard County board members turned their attention Wednesday to the cost of waste disposal.

The deep hole at the south transfer station is full to ground level. Solid waste officials envision a 30-foot mountain eventually and want to plan for the future.

The dismal economy has slowed the collection of solid waste as people hang onto their things longer, but that hasn't capped the cost of storing it when it is dumped, and "re-gifting" it to other vendors.

The board grudgingly approved a 2 percent increase to the county's solid waste assessment as it renegotiated contracts for recycled goods.

And at least one citizen questioned whether Hubbard County was getting the best bang for the buck.

The board approved a general recycling contract with the Developmental Achievement Center, which recycles the bulk of items dropped off at the transfer station.

The market for recycled glass has diminished, so some of the crushed glass has been mixed with crushed concrete for use on area roads. That hasn't made resident Dianne Wylie happy. She said she's gone through three tires on County 48 hitting chunks of glass on her roadway. She said she could see a Budweiser label off her driveway in the concrete glass mix that was placed on her street last summer.

The DAC contract pays the county 19 cents a pound for electronics.

"We had a bit of a windfall" in the price of electrical components, said DAC manager Ed Ranson. "Since July we've been rebating the county $1,300 a month."

The DAC estimates a savings to the county of $50,000 to $70,000 next year, Ranson said.

"Old TVs seem to be coming out of the woodwork," said DAC recycling manager Rick Zeller. "We're getting lots of computer monitors."

But both men said households are not as quick to dispose of the old as they were before the economy soured.

Ranson said the DAC "effectively lowered our rates last year to $91.58 per ton" for about 3,000 tons recycled every year.

"Due to the economy we've made a real effort to cut costs, keep them down," Ranson told the board.

But he suggested reviving a solid waste committee to guide future efforts and meeting with the board more often.

"Solid waste is one of the most important things we have to deal with," commissioner Dick Devine said. "With our long-term solid waste, everything's filling up."

"I feel a need to communicate more than I have in the past couple years," Ranson suggested.

Commissioner Kathy Grell agreed with "creating a committee to deal with the nitty gritty" of recycling, a proposal commissioner Lyle Robinson opposed.

"We're just scheduling more government," Robinson said. "We want to make sure we're not micromanaging our department heads."

Robinson suggested since the DAC is a subcontractor of the Solid Waste Department, the DAC's sole dealings should be made with solid waste superintendent Vern Massie. Massie in turn reports to the county board.

The board asked Ranson how the DAC's three businesses, Bearly Used Thrift Store, the Tin Ceiling thrift and Salvage Depot, were doing financially.

"The stores are fundraising for us, filling in the corners on our budget," Ranson said. "We make $500,000 a year on the three locations."

That money pays for clerks and employees, he said. The net profit at the DAC stores is around $100,000, Ranson said. "Running thrift stores is a good way to supplement the other resources," the DAC has.

But he pointed out that the Salvage Depot, which takes construction materials from the transfer station, "actually reduces your costs."

Only 20 percent of what is donated to Bearly Used is actually sold, he said. The remainder is baled "and sold as a commodity" for Third World" countries.

And as commodity prices rise and fall, so do profits, Ranson said,

As the board renewed its DAC contract for five years, members questioned why it was going through those motions when the contract can be broken upon 30 days notice.

Monopoly and money

Cleo Williams, a Hubbard County resident, stood up after the board had voted on the solid waste contracts to question the arrangements in place.

DAC "kind of" has a monopoly of services, Massie acknowledged after the meeting.

And some of the services provided, such as taking old tires and hazardous waste, could be discontinued if the board resisted raising overall rates.

"You have options you can look at without raising rates," commissioner Kathy Grell told Massie. "We need to challenge ourselves to work it out and not raise the solid waste" assessment.

"I'd rather raise the rates than see (junk) all over," commissioner Cal Johannsen said.

"People in the Cities pay a bucket of money to dump things," Devine said. "I think we have the best deal around."

Williams said he was disappointed he didn't get the bid for the scrap metal.

"Iron prices are up, If you guys want a percentage, if you have somebody managing it, you'll have less iron leaving that place," he said of the chronic problem of scavenging.

Massie said the department is maximizing its profits as best as possible.

The county accepted bids for "the ones that paid us the most and the ones that cost us the least."

But Massie didn't necessarily disagree with Williams.

"He was saying for his price per ton he would have been on site, almost as an employee out there, to pick things up, to clean it up every day," Massie explained of Williams' bid. "He would have been managing it more than we've been. We just stockpile it and he would be running the scavengers out because that would be cutting into his bottom line."

Scavenging solid waste items has been a thorn in the county's side for years as individuals help themselves to the scrap metal piles.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing," Massie said of having someone on site to police the theft. "I told him that when I talked to him. (Williams) The price difference, I suppose, is pretty much what he was figuring for himself, kind of a wage for doing it."

Massie said there really aren't many subcontractors to compete with DAC, which employs dozens of people.

"They're pretty competitive," Massie said of the solid waste bids. "They're not that far apart, 10-20 bucks, maybe. That's mainly why I go out and quote it anymore, to make sure we're going to get the best deal. I could easily just negotiate it with the current vendors but it kind of keeps 'em honest."

In other business, the board:

n Agreed to fund the Kitchigami Regional Library System at 90 percent the level it did last year, which will be $171,623. As other counties cut back their contributions to Kitchigami, commissioners expressed some regrets over the fact that mobile library services are being cut.

Hubbard County funded the library system based on the recommendation of Minnesota's Department of Education. If library officials had come to plead their case before the board commissioners might have restored the full funding, they said.

n Heard from Department of Corrections District Supervisor Marc Blomquist that the department will come in 14 percent under budge in 2011.

"But caseloads continue to increase," he warned. "Felonies are almost double."

Probation services just got a $50,000 grant to combat domestic abuse locally, which is on the rise. The program would be modeled after an acclaimed sex offender treatment program, which works with a probation agent, therapist and offender.

"Our sex offender treatment is a huge success," Blomquist told the board.

n Heard that both requests for income maintenance and intakes, the forms people fill out for needs assessments, rose in November. That did not surprise the board. Caseloads and needs rise every winter.

n Approved the contract with the city of Nevis to provide a deputy to that community. Nevis pays $73,034 to the county for the protection.

n Authorized the sale of 14 unused vehicles, including two old squad cars and others seized in drug and alcohol cases. Proceeds by law go to various agencies, including the Sheriff's Department and County Attorney, for the prosecution of such cases.

n Approved a 2012 medical examiner purchase of services agreement with state coroner M.B. McGee and established a mileage rate of $2 per mile to transport deceased persons to and from the coroner.

n Approved a POS with Park Rapids to prosecute its rapidly growing criminal caseload through the County Attorney's office.

Sarah Smith

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

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