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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission weighs options for solid waste collection in county

Linn County Public Works Administrator Shaun West, left, and Commission Chair Danny McCullough inspect some of the damage at the county's solid-waste transfer station earler this month. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

By Charlene Sims, Journal staff

MOUND CITY – On Monday, April 24, the Linn County Commissioners brainstormed about issues at the county’s transfer station and other solid-waste concerns.

Public Works Director Shaun West reported to the commissioners that several changes had been made at the transfer station to benefit the employees. First, the button used to operate the compactor was relocated on the other side of the wall with a window so that the operator had a safe place to stand where he did not get splashed with trash. The pressure gauge was also moved there so that the operator could see it.

West said that he was going to get with the Information Technology (IT) department so that a monitor was also going to be installed because the operator could not see the scales or the entrance from the location where the button was installed.

West told the commissioners that commissioners that J.R. Kerr had given the county estimates of $16,500 to make the transfer building station structurally safe and $10,500 to build one new trash container. He said that the container could be completed in 30 to 45 days, and it would be made out of heavier steel than the current containers.

West explained to the commissioners that it would be six months before the county could purchase a prebuilt container.

The commissioners approved having Kerr do the work on the building but asked West to get information on what the price would be on a purchased container even if it would be six months before it could be delivered.

West said that the transfer station would need to be shut down for about a week while it was pressure washed and the work by Kerr was completed.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough asked if the others felt it was necessary to have a compactor at the transfer station so that household waste could be taken from commercial haulers.

West said that there was also an open-top trash container at the construction debris (CD) landfill so that people dumping CD items could throw their household trash in it because it was not supposed to go into the landfill.

Commissioner Jason Hightower said he thought the question about spending money on the tipping floor all comes down to the county’s big long-term view of solid-waste management.

“Are we going to continue with our trash compactor sites and everything that way?” asked Hightower.

McCullough said that he thought that the compactor sites were a massive asset to county residents. But he wondered if the compactor could be eliminated at the landfill since the county already has one at Prescott.

McCullough said that he felt a long-term plan was needed. He expressed concern about upcoming issues like replacing the CD cells and compactor sites improvements that were needed.

In the meeting, Hightower said that, even though it was not specified in the proposed plan from Pfefferkorn Engineering, it seemed as though the plan was a way of moving the county to eliminating the compactor sites.

In a later phone conversation, Hightower said that while that was not written in the plan, he said that at the meeting with the engineer, the engineer said that Linn County was the only county he had seen that had separate compactor sites for each community.

Hightower said that the engineer did suggest that the compactor sites all be dumped at the transfer station and be moved into a larger trailer so that fewer trips could be made to the landfill at Arcadia in Crawford County or Allen County, depending on which one the commission chooses.

At Monday’s meeting, discussion was held on whether it was fair that everyone in the county pays a tax for the compactors but that some people also pay for a commercial hauler to pick up their trash.

“Every business in Linn County hires somebody to haul their trash down there, so they are paying double,” said Commissioner Jim Johnson. “A lot of the people out in the country just have their dumpsters and don’t even fool with the trash compactors.”

Maybe the solution to this is not that we stop taking the commercial haulers but that we start beginning the process of moving toward having the commercial haulers, Hightower said. He said he wasn’t for closing individual compactor sites now, but in the future that’s the way it will go.

Hightower said he preferred restructuring the transfer station so that the county would break even on the cost was the best solution. That included commercial haulers paying to dump their trucks, the county then loading the trash onto a semi-trailer, and then hauling it to a landfill.

That is the reason that the county would look at investing $1.2 million into the upgrade.

In the phone call, Hightower said that one of the things he was weighing is compactors versus commercial trash haulers.

At the meeting, McCullough was concerned that all residents could not pay for a commercial hauler.

County Clerk David Lamb told the commissioners that the entire Solid Waste Department costs the taxpayer 2.25 mills, which on a house valued at $100,000 would cost the taxpayer $26 per year.

In an email from Lamb later, he also pointed out that the burden for the taxpayer might actually be less because the Solid Waste Department also brings in some income from trash haulers and people dumping at the CD site.

Lamb said in 2021, the landfill brought in about $200,000, which helped offset the mill levy.

At Monday’s meeting, McCullough asked what the county charges per ton of household trash from haulers.

West said that it was $45 per ton.

McCullough said maybe the county should charge more.

West said that in 2022 commercial haulers brought in 319 loads totaling 1,082 tons, which amounted to an income of nearly $47,500. The county paid just over $33,100 to unload that trash at the landfill.

McCullough also asked why one of the commercial trash haulers, Waste Management, dumped at the Linn County landfill rather than at landfills owned by them.

McCullough said there were a lot of things to consider with plans for the landfill. He said that some of the issues the county was dealing with included redoing the transfer station, closing up and putting in new cells for the CD waste, and updating the local compactors.

“I just want to make sure we are considering all options,” said McCullough.

McCullough questioned whether it was a good idea to have households take their trash to the transfer station. He said that maybe everyone that took household waste to the transfer station should have to pay a fee like the commercial haulers. Residents have the option of taking their trash to the free compactor sites, including Prescott near the transfer station.

McCullough said there are going to be a lot of questions and conversations going into this to make sure that the county is taking the right route. He also pointed out that the county needed to know what it will cost to open new cells.

McCullough said the commission needs to have a workshop with Solid Waste Director Al Doan to get more ideas.

West said that he was going to be meeting with an engineer from Terracon, the company that does the cell work, and he needed a list of questions from the commissioners before the meeting so he could give them to the engineer. Then, the engineer will bring those answers to the county commissioners.

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