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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Even though the county manager and the county’s chief financial officer advised against it, the Dunn County Board’s executive committee is recommending a $330,000 budget adjustment for the solid waste and recycling division.
Dunn County is already subsidizing the Neighbors of Dunn County at around $1 million per year, and the county has had unexpected child welfare costs related to the drug epidemic, said Paul Miller, county manager, at the executive committee’s May 13 meeting.
The county also is expecting sales tax revenue to decrease by an estimated $400,000 to $600,000 this year because of businesses being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the county will likely have unexpected expenses due to COVID-19, he said.
The budget adjustment, which will be taken under consideration by the county board at the May 20 meeting, would allow the solid waste and recycling division to borrow $330,000 from the county’s general fund to cover a budget shortfall caused by decreases in revenue from the sale of recyclable materials and increases in operational expenses.
The fund balance is already at a minimum level to maintain the county’s credit rating, Miller said.
If the county ends up with a lower credit rating, that means the county will pay higher interest rates when borrowing money, which will end up costing the taxpayers more, he said.
“It seems like the perfect storm of a bad situation,” Miller said.
The solid waste and recycling division plans to pay back the $330,000 with an increased per capita cost next year for the municipalities in Dunn County that participate in the program.
The payback is not guaranteed because the agreement with the townships allows them to withdraw from the program with 120 days of notice, Miller said.
The City of Menomonie and several townships are already talking about pulling out of the program, which would put an even heavier burden on the remaining townships, he said.
At that point, the sustainability of the program is in question, Miller said.
County residents want the collection sites open, but they are expensive to operate, said Morgan Gerk, director of Dunn County Solid Waste and Recycling.
Collection sites are located in Boyceville, Colfax, Elk Mound, Connorsville, Ridgeland, Downsville and Rock Creek.
Dunn County may have to consider an alternative business model that eliminates the collection sites, Gerk said.
A different business model would include closing the existing collections sites and building a new transfer station with curbside pickup across the county, he said.
The existing transfer station is 30 years old, and building a new transfer station would cost an estimated $10 million to $12 million.
If Dunn County closes down the solid waste and recycling division, the villages and townships could go together to operate the collection sites on their own, Gerk said.
The villages and townships would have to buy the equipment from the county, and they would have to hire someone to do the administrative oversight and to do the regulatory reporting that is required to make sure the collection sites are staying in compliance with state law, he said.
If the budget adjustment for 2020 is not approved, collection sites will have to be closed, or the hours will have to be much more limited, Miller said.
The per capita fees for the Dunn County program have always been undervalued and have been subsidized by the sale of recyclable materials, Gerk said.
The solid waste and recycling per capita fee could increase from $23 this year to nearly $71 next year to cover anticipated budget deficits.
Solid waste and recycling has been in crisis since 2017, when China changed the rules for their standards on contamination and refused to take the majority of the recyclables from the United States, Miller said.
The ability to process and use recycled materials in the United States has not yet been developed, so there is not much of market for recycled materials, he said.
“We are now seeing the true cost (of the solid waste and recycling program),” Gerk said.
David Bartlett, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, also is chair of the Town of Sheridan.
Bartlett said as town chair, he has looked into the cost of Sheridan doing a solid waste and recycling program and knows it would cost more than the per capita being paid now, although he said he does not know if it would be more than the anticipated per capita in 2021.
The solid waste and recycling budget is already in place for 2020, and the townships and villages are expecting the program to continue this year, he said.
Dunn County must continue operating the program for this year, or else the county will take a step backward environmentally, Bartlett said.
Bartlett noted that when he was a kid, he would go hunting, and from time to time, would come across a ravine being used as a junk yard.
Charles Maves, county board supervisor from Boyceville, said he agreed with Bartlett, and that by continuing the program for the rest of the year, the townships will have time to do their “due diligence” to figure out what they want to do about solid waste and recycling for next year.
The Dunn County Board’s executive committee unanimously approved sending the $330,000 budget adjustment to the county board for consideration.