Washington County reduces environmental charge; saves $450K annually
Washington County officials amended an ordinance last week that reduces environmental charges paid by residents by $250,000 this year and $450,000 in future years.
The solid waste management ordinance requires the county to collect an environmental charge from taxpayers through garbage bills. The charge will be reduced from 37.5 percent to 35 percent beginning July, a reflection of a downward trend that has continued since 2009, said Judy Hunter, senior program manager for public health and environment.
The department reviews the charge on a regular basis and recommended reducing it to 35 percent at a public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 25, after staff discovered the county was collecting more money than needed.
Some of the money is used to process household hazardous waste at the county’s environmental center in Woodbury and for recycling efforts at cities, schools and townships, Hunter said.
Garbage haulers who contract with the county are also given rebates capped at $8.4 million for resource recovery, she added. Material is separated into objects that can be used for fuel, for example.
Board chair Autumn Lehrke, who represents south Washington County, said public health staff recognized the county was collecting too much money, which is why they suggested the 2.5 percent reduction.
“The responsible thing to do is give that back to the taxpayers,” Lehrke said later in an interview.
This year’s reduction is less because it is going into effect mid-year.
Last week’s public hearing drew one comment from Matt Behning who suggested the county should eliminate the charge all together and said it’s not environmentally safe to continue burning trash.
Washington County shouldn’t continue “subsidizing an industry that can’t survive on its own” or collect 35 percent in taxes to support the service, he said.
But County Commissioner Gary Kriesel said many agencies receive public dollars including supermarkets and hospitals.
“There is a boatload of businesses out there that ultimately receive tax subsidies,” he said, noting that the environmental charge complies with state laws.
Commissioner Ted Bearth recalled practices from decades ago that deemed landfills environmentally safe. He said the county’s waste management ordinance requires much safer alternatives.
“We have to be awfully careful of what we put in the ground,” he said. “The less we put in the ground, the better off.”
Kriesel echoed Bearth’s comments and said the ultimate goal is to protect groundwater resources which face future threats in terms of contamination and supply.
All licensed solid waste haulers were notified of the changes and will start billing with the new rates beginning July 1.