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Solid waste fees to rise 3%; new warning system purchased

Hubbard County will increase solid waste disposal fees by 3 percent for 2013 due to a lingering deficit. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Hubbard County's solid waste rates will rise 3 percent next year to solve a lingering deficit, while the county board took no action on a request for a 2 percent hike in recycling rates.

But the vexing problem of neighboring county residents using Hubbard County's transfer stations for free raised its ugly head again with no solution in sight.

Frustrated county commissioners heard from three small garbage haulers, who pleaded with the board not to impose a per-truck fee on dumping county waste.

Most feared they could not pass the increase on to their customers without losing business.

"A $100 fee is out of line," protested Dale Anderson of City Sanitary Service. "Garbage men are not making that much. One truck, I don't even have 100 stops on it."

Anderson said he's not wintering in Florida or living the good life.

"We don't run these trucks to the max," said Mitch Nelson of Northern Pines Sanitation. "We dump out of convenience" when the trucks are in town.

"The profit margins are not there," Nelson said.

"It's gotta be fair all around," Anderson said, noting that out-of-county dumping "is a big issue, really."

Commissioners honed in on Menahga and Osage residents, with other dumping coming from Walker, especially commercial trucks.

The suggestion of a tip fee of $100 per truckload of garbage was quickly withdrawn.

"How easily can you pass on the fee?" commissioner Kathy Grell asked the haulers.

"Not in this market," Nelson replied.

"Maybe this is something for the new board," a reluctant board chair Dick Devine said to laughter. Devine and commissioner Lyle Robinson will not be returning to the board in 2013.

"I feel uncomfortable voting to do something that's gonna be hard on our small businesses," Devine said.

Robinson pointed out the inconsistencies in the county policy, saying, "If I haul my own garbage it's free" but if another hauler brings it, there would be a charge.

"Why is garbage sacred?" he asked. "That's not logical."

Solid waste superintendent Vern Massie said the proposal to implement a tip fee of $100 per truck would bring in about $100,000 annually.

The free dumping "has been an issue since we started the free system and we've never been able to solve it," he acknowledged.

Hubbard County has seven licensed haulers, Massie said.

"We're just passing it on to the customers who have their garbage hauled," Robinson said.

"How many customers are going to quit the service?" Devine wondered aloud.

But Robinson countered that many couldn't dump their garbage as cheaply themselves driving in from the country.

In-bound and out-bound scales were proposed and rejected. Running license plate checks on users of the transfer station would be illegal, Devine said.

"Our employees let them in," Robinson said. In a small county, everyone knows everyone.

"We had the same conversation 16 years ago when I went on the board," Devine said.

Robinson said it was unfair to "hit the same people over and over while others are cheating."

Stopping incoming vehicles to inquire whether they had an actual tie to Hubbard County would be an act of futility, Robinson said.

"They'd have a cabin on Lake Plantagenet" or be dumping a relative's trash from inside the county, he noted.

Commissioners even questioned what the cost of putting small GPS units on cars would be, to track the incoming traffic.

The 3 percent hike will cost a residential homeowner an extra $4 annually, raising the assessment from $138 to $142. It would raise $150,000 annually, "about half what we need," the board pointed out.

But the issue of illegal dumping is sure to confront the new board.

"Fees are fees," Devine said. "Pretty soon there are no more small businesses" hauling garbage. "I don't want to get down to one hauler in Hubbard County. Then look out."

Waste Management Inc., a nationwide company, hauls Hubbard County waste to a landfill in Gwinner, N.D.

Nelson said it is a monopolistic system that costs the county more than it should.

That contract will expire in a few years.

Massie said he's been having serious talks with Polk County officials about the feasibility of using the Fosston incinerator as a cheaper option, and urged the board to give it some thought.

When it looked as though the board might take no action, Robinson urged fellow commissioners to make the hard decision.

'We have to bite the bullet," he said. We can't pass it on to the new board."

Grell opposed giving the Developmental Achievement Center its requested 2 percent rate hike. It has the sole contract to recycle all the goods coming in to the transfer stations.

"I'm opposed to it," Grell said. "They haven't done everything they could to show they need it," including cost cutting.

In other business, the board:

n Voted to sever its relationship with Global Connect, the countywide notification system the Sheriff's Department has been using since 2011. Sheriff Cory Aukes said the system, which costs $8,590 per year, has been cumbersome in its application, sometimes taking more than an hour to notify all county residents.

He worries a severe storm could pass through the region before all residents get the call.

CodeRED will cost the county slightly more, $9,450 a year, but Aukes said it has much more potential and speed.

The county paid $23,000 for three years of service in 2011, but Aukes assured the board it was not a contractual obligation and that the county could give 30 days notice to terminate the agreement without losing any money.

Aukes also took some heat from Grell over renovations to the dispatch center. Workers tore up the flooring this week to discover the sub-flooring was a mess and needed replacing.

The cost will be $800 to $1,000, Aukes told the board.

"How did we not know this?" a visually upset Grell asked. She said the sub flooring's condition would have been checked if the room was carpeted but tile was the option selected, and wondered why it came as a surprise.

n Appointed Dennis Bessler to the Planning Commission. It is a three-year term.

n Signed the contract with St. Joseph's Area Health Services to provide public health services to the county. The $137,594 cost is paid for by state monies and funds for programs such as maternal and child health care.

Public health administrator RaeAnn Mayer also gave a brief synopsis of influenza activity, saying the flu season started three weeks early this year and could be similar to the 2009-10 season, when a moderate outbreak was experienced in the county.

She said there are plenty of vaccines available, but urged "self-quarantine" as the best method to stop the spread of flu.

Sarah Smith

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

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