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Commissioners discuss solid waste

At the outset of the budgeting season for the 2016 fiscal year – with the Idaho County Commission to hear each department’s budget request during the weeks ahead – the board will begin considering a new idea on how to keep a lid on solid waste costs in the future.

Idaho County does not have a solid waste department, and it is in the third year of a 10-year contract with Simmons Sanitation and Recycling Service of Kamiah. Though the commission is scheduled to hear a presentation from Simmons at the June 16 meeting, the way the county collects garbage fees will not change in the upcoming year. But because solid waste is one of the county’s biggest expenses year after year, and because the county’s solid waste fees remain controversial, the commissioners will start considering new ways to contain costs and apply fees more fairly in years ahead.

Having talked with Simmons and the volunteer recycling organization earlier in the month, commissioner Mark Frei described an idea at the board’s May 26 meeting that could “help the commission determine where waste comes from and bill accordingly.” Frei also outlined how restructuring the system so that the county’s largest communities could each have access to closely managed high-capacity drop-off sites could help address the challenges the solid waste issue presents.

Budgeted at $1.6 million last year, solid waste was the Idaho County taxpayer’s third-biggest expense in fiscal 2015. But under the approach the commission adopted last year, Frei said the commissioners are also hearing a consistent complaint from county residents: “I don’t produce the amount of garbage that I am charged for.”

Frei described several other problems the current solid waste system faces. While the existing open dumpster sites are messy and abused, there is currently no way to know where all the garbage is coming from. At the same time, the existing system lacks the capability to separate different kinds of waste – some of which can be managed for one-third what it costs to manage others. The inability to separate out different kinds of solid waste prevents the county from taking advantage of potential cost savings.

Frei highlighted a $50 per ton difference in expense to dispose of different types of waste – a savings the county could potentially tap into if the county solves the sorting problem.

Frei then outlined how “manned mega drop off” sites could address each aspect of the problem: Trash could be separated into kinds (metal, wood and brush, plastic, glass, tires, and so on). Recycle bins could be present and there could be areas to unload pick-up loads. The sites could be enclosed to keep trash from blowing into ditches and fields. Records could be kept, and the records could inform how the fee structure could be fairer.

But before he asked fellow commissioners Jim Chmelik and Skip Brandt to invite Simmons to the June 16 meeting, Frei was careful to say he would not try to advance the idea without support from both. After further discussion, both Chmelik and Brandt indicated they would like to hear from Simmons about how the county’s solid waste system could be improved.


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