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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Solid waste and recycling fees in Dunn County, currently set at $23 per person, are expected to increase anywhere from $57 to $72 per person in 2021.
The range of the increase will depend on whether the collection sites are open on Wednesdays and Saturdays or Saturdays only and whether Menomonie withdraws from the program, said Morgan Gerk, director of Dunn County Solid Waste and Recycling, at the solid waste and recycling management board meeting on July 7.
If other townships and villages withdraw from the program, the increase would be more than $72 per person, Gerk said.
Currently the per capita fee is set at $12 per year for solid waste and $11 per year for recycling.
The per capita of $23 is “unsustainable,” Gerk said, because it does not generate enough revenue to keep the program solvent.
If the collection sites in Dunn County — Colfax, Elk Mound, Boyceville, Connorsville, Ridgeland, Downsville and Rock Creek — are open Saturdays only, the solid waste fee for 2021 would be $35.53 and the recycling fee would be $21.73 for a total of $57.26 per person per year, Gerk said.
If Menomonie pulls out of the program, then the solid waste fee would remain at $35.53, but the recycling fee would increase to $35.53 for a total of $71.06 per year, he said.
Menomonie only participates in Dunn County recycling and not in the solid waste part of the program.
The per capita for Menomonie for recycling is $6.
When asked why Menomonie pays less per capita for recycling than other municipalities in Dunn County, Gerk said the difference in fees was negotiated many years ago and that he is in favor of making the program more equitable.
Gerk noted that as a resident of Eau Claire, he pays $70 per quarter for solid waste and recycling for a total of $280 per year.
If the collection sites are open next year on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the sites would be open at reduced hours over the hours the sites are open now on Saturdays only, Gerk said.
For Wednesdays and Saturdays, the solid waste fee would be $36.02 per person, and the recycling fee would be $22.02 per person, for a total of $58.04 per person for 2021, he said.
The population of the towns and villages in Dunn County is 25,700, and the population of Menomonie is 16,330, Gerk noted.
Menomonie and Sand Creek only use the county recycling program, he said.
If Menomonie withdraws, for the collection sites to be open Wednesdays and Saturdays, the cost for solid waste would remain at $58.04 per person, but the recycling would increase to $36.02 per person, for a total of $72.04 per person for 2021, Gerk said.
Gerk said he realizes he is proposing a large increase, but reiterated that the current per capita of $23 is not sustainable.
The per capita fee in Dunn County has been artificially low for many years because in previous years, the market for recyclable materials was very good, and the revenue generated from selling the recyclables subsidized the per capita.
Several years ago, China stopped accepting most of the recyclable materials that had previously been accepted, and markets have not yet been developed in the United States.
Information included in the packet for the Dunn County Solid Waste and Recycling Management Board meeting in early December of 2019 shows the revenue budget for the year for recycling in the amount of $835,825 but the revenue actually received at that point was $564,801 for a revenue shortfall of a little over $271,000 for the year.
All of the proposed per capita fees for 2021 include paying back the $330,000 deficit from the 2020 budget, Gerk said.
The Dunn County Board has approved loaning $330,000 to the solid waste and recycling division from the county’s general fund.
The increased per capita fees also include nearly $340,000 to put back into the solid waste and recycling fund balance and $95,000 for the Clean Sweep program, Gerk said.
The $330,000 loan will be paid back in 2021, but the payment to the solid waste and recycling fund balance will continue until the fund balance increases to where it should be, he said.
A rough calculation indicates that Dunn County residents could be paying back the solid waste and recycling general fund for perhaps the next five years.
For all of the possible new per capita fees in 2021, no information was included about the disposal cost that Dunn County pays.
For example, for Saturdays only at the collection sites for 2021, if all of the municipalities currently in the program stay in the program, the per capita would be $57.
And while the $57 includes paying back Dunn County for the 2020 $330,000 budget deficit loan, another $340,000 to pay back the solid waste and recycling fund balance and $95,000 for Clean Sweep, there was no breakdown of how much of the $57 would be devoted to each of those costs or how much of the $57 would account for disposal fees paid by Dunn County per capita.
The townships and villages in Dunn County that are part of the solid waste and recycling program have been asked to decide by the end of July whether they want the collection sites to be open on Saturdays only or Wednesdays and Saturdays, Gerk said.
The townships and villages also have been asked to decide by the end of August whether they are staying in the Dunn County solid waste and recycling program for 2021 or whether they are dropping out, he said.
If a municipality drops out of the program, then the solid waste and recycling per capita can be recalculated for those townships and villages remaining in the program so they will have the numbers available to set their budgets for next year, he said.
Gary Bjork, county board supervisor from Colfax and chair of the solid waste and recycling management board, wondered if the townships and villages would be asked to make a commitment under the new per capita for only one year.
“Yes … baby steps,” Gerk said.
Municipalities that decide to drop out of the Dunn County Solid Waste and Recycling Program are required by their agreements with the county to give 120 days written notice of their withdrawal.
For a municipality with a population of 1,000, for example, the increase in the 2021 budget for solid waste and recycling would go from $23,000 to as little as $57,000 or as much as $72,000, representing an increase of $34,000 or $49,000, depending on the increase in the per capita.
Municipalities in Wisconsin operate under state-imposed tax levy limits, which means they can only increase their tax levies each year according to the net new construction in the municipality.
Most municipalities are already levying up to the limit to cover their expenses, so in order to increase the budget in one area, the budget would have be decreased by the same amount in another area.
Many of the municipalities in Dunn County include the solid waste and recycling fee in their tax levy, although some municipalities invoice the per capita directly to their residents so it is not included in the tax levy.
For many of the townships in Dunn County, the increase in the solid waste and recycling per capita would most likely mean reducing the road maintenance budget by the same amount, since the townships have no control over what they pay to have a fire department and an ambulance service available for their residents.
Under the Dunn County solid waste and recycling program, residents who live in municipalities that are not part of the program can purchase a solid waste permit sticker that will provide them access to the collection sites.
The current fee for residents of non-participating municipalities for a solid waste permit sticker is $100 for the year.
Under a fee increase approved by the solid waste and recycling management board at the July 7 meeting, the fee will increase to $200 for the year.
The cost for Dunn County is calculated at $71 per capita, figuring 2.5 people per household, for a total of $177.50.