Le Center council debates using a commercial recycling service, opts for public hearing

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Le Sueur County News:

The recycling system in Le Center may be undergoing a big change and City Council is looking for community input next month.

On Jan. 1, 2020, the Le Sueur County recycling center will no longer be funded or used by the county. In previous years, the county has supplied the city of Le Center with subsidies for the recycling plant, but with the county forgoing future involvement, the city of Le Center will have to decide whether to continue operations as usual or hire a contractor.

The first option the city has is to continue the recycling system as usual. Le Center residents would continue to drop off their recycling at the plant, with the only change being that people outside of Le Center will not be able to drop off their refuse. One idea brought up was carding; the hope would be to prevent out-of-towners from dumping their recycling in Le Center.

“If we were to take that route, people working at the recycling center will make sure that they are carding people, making sure that they are citizens of Le Center, right?” Councillor Christian Harmeyer asked his colleagues at a budget workshop meeting Aug. 21.

Mayor Josh Frederickson agreed and suggested a gate be put in place to prevent unauthorized dumping.

“If they want to go that route, I think we would need to build some sort of gate system at the shop, big enough for our guys to get in and out of it, but would also give us security and be locked every night, which would eliminate the dumping,” said Frederickson. “It would also provide one way in, one way out. You would have two-roaded gates; that’s how I envision it … You would have to have a responsible person, an adult most likely, at the entrance, so when people show up more often in the city, they’ll have to be turned away. It’s the only way we’ll be able to do it.”

One issue the council identified with continuing the current service is cost. With the county subsidizing approximately $27,000 toward the recycling center, Le Center was operating at a profit, but without that subsidy, maintaining the system would require the city to run the plant at a loss.

In 2018, Le Center had a recycling revenue of approximately $111,000 and expenses of approximately $125,000. Without the subsidy from the county, Le Center would have lost about $13,000.

Councillors discussed the idea that raising the rates might not solve this issue, since it could cause many to simply stop recycling to avoid the added costs.

Contractor

The second option available to the city is to hire a contractor to haul garbage and recycling rather than have people go out to the plant and drop it off. This could be funded several ways. Some cities in the area hire the contractors themselves and recoup the costs from their citizens on water bills. Many of the councillors disliked the idea of the city directly hiring a commercial hauler.

“I think homeowners should have the option to pay for the service. Instead of adding it to a water bill and having it forced down their throat,” said Nathan Hinz.

The other possible structure is to set up an agreement with the contractor to work in the city, but homeowners would be responsible for paying to have their home serviced. The city would no longer be involved in recycling in a scenario where homeowners pay commercial service.

“Outside of granting a franchise, that’s where the city’s involvement ends,” said Mayor Frederickson. “Everything else is between the homeowner and the contractor. If there are payment issues between the homeowner and the contractor, they’ll have to call the contractor. If the contractor accidentally dumps waste on their lawn, don’t come to City Hall. It’s not our problem.”

Frederickson pointed out several potential upsides to hiring a contractor. The mayor pointed out hiring a contractor would reduce the risk of the city paying work compensation for an injury on the job, and the city would save money from not having to run or repair their garbage truck. However, Frederickson also noted the downsides.

“If you go contracted service, curbies will be sitting in front of people’s homes every day of the week, which would be a blight issue. So we would have to rewrite some ordinances,” said Frederickson. “The secondary aspect of it is, is it really cost effective for the people of this town? Because yeah, the first introductory rates for these companies are really, really good, but they jack it up every single year and that would be a bad thing. Another thing, with the city footing the bill and putting it back in water bills, that only works if everyone pays their water bill. We have enough trouble collecting for water bills out there and now we have another $40,000 or $70,000 for refuse a month depending on the residents’ needs.”

Councilor Christian Harmeyer also noted that the city would lose money from residents using Le Center’s blue bags — garbage bags sold by the city to residents.

On the issue of curbies being an eyesore, City Administrator Chris Collins pointed out that cities like Burnsville have found ways to solve it.

“In Burnsville, it’s right in their ordinance that the two bins can be out on the day, which is Tuesday, and on 10 p.m. Tuesday night, they have to be off the street. The ordinance also states they cannot be visible from the street,” said Collins. “A lot of people just put them around the corner or behind a fence and that seems to work for them.”

City Council decided not to make any decisions during the budget meeting and have instead chosen to hold a public hearing on recycling during the Sept. 10 City Council meeting.

“We need to get an idea of what people in town truly want,” said Frederickson. “I don’t feel comfortable with five or seven of us making that decision for the entire city. I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s right.”


https://www.southernminn.com/le_sueur_county_news/news/article_fd034741-5877-5a79-a8c2-da3a9da4c56e.html

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