This year Winona County became the first county in the state to offer curbside recycling pickup to everyone, even the most rural county residents. The service costs $730,000 per year, and almost as soon as the trucks began hauling the recyclables away, problems were reported.
Veolia, Inc., contracted by the county for the recycling, approached the county board during the summer with a request for another $160,000 annually, nearly 20 percent over the initial bid for the service. Company representatives listed a host of problems: hundreds of totes had been delivered to small businesses that were not included in the original contract; rural residents were fastening totes to mailboxes and other spots to keep them from blowing over, requiring a Veolia worker to get out of the truck to empty them; some rural roadways were often too difficult to navigate; and Winona residents were putting totes in alleyways, requiring trucks to try to drive in narrow alleys to pick up the recycling.
After commissioners expressed an unwillingness to issue extra funds, and questioned the legality of the original bid in light of the request for an increase, county staff and Veolia representatives went back to the bargaining table. On Tuesday, commissioners were presented with a new request, for $58,000 in additional funds.
Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman said $58,000 represented an 8 or 9 percent increase in the contract, and was meant to cover the cost of driving through alleys in the city of Winona. Other contract issues had been worked out administratively, he explained.
About 241 blocks in Winona, Gilman explained, have issues that make it difficult to get the tote to the curb. There are also some instances of people, elderly or otherwise, who want to keep their totes in a fixed spot in the alley. He explained that Veolia would have to service both the alleys and the curbs on these blocks because each included a complex mix of those better suited for street or curbside pickup.
Commissioner Marcia Ward wondered why, with all the new GPS and mapping technology, the contractor couldn’t simply let residents know whether they should put their totes on the curb or in the alley and save $58,000. “I drag mine about the length of a football field,” she said, adding she had reservations about spending more on the program.
The county currently uses a $16 per parcel fee to help fund the program, although that doesn’t cover the full cost of the program. Reserves from the solid waste fund are currently being used to help defray the contract cost. Commissioners learned Tuesday that the city of St. Charles pays the $16 per parcel fee, but does not get the service, since the city currently offers it along with garbage collection. The city has reportedly approached the county about recouping that tax money, said Gilman.
The board is expected to take a vote on the proposed contract increase at its next regular meeting.