When Winona County began its curb-side recycling program in December 2011, it instituted a per-parcel fee assigned to property taxes to help fund the $788,000 annual expense.
The city of St. Charles, however, was already operating a separate recycling program under a city contract. St. Charles residents have been funding that program and have also been paying for the county program. Now, county leaders are attempting to figure out a plan to repay St. Charles citizens $52,000 for the extra taxes imposed.
The board was presented with three options to resolve the issue, but none seemed to attract full board support, and the item was tabled for further legal review.
Administrators claimed it would cost the county $24,000 to issue 1,100 rebate checks, because county staff members would have to prepare W9 tax forms. Each parcel owner was charged a $16 annual solid waste fee for calendar years 2012 - 2014 while not receiving county recycling services, and County Board members balked at the price tag for such small rebate checks. Board member Jim Pomeroy said he believed the rebates could be issued without such costly tax form preparation, because the rebates would not be seen as taxable income since it was money paid by property owners that wasn't taxed in the first place.
Under the second option the county would simply cut a check to the city of St. Charles, to be distributed to residents by the city using resident utility accounts. However, county administrators said this option would cost the city of St. Charles $10,000 to administer.
The third option involved the removal of the per-parcel fee from St. Charles resident property taxes for the next three years, which would cost the county about $1,000 to manage. Some board members favored this approach, but admitted it would simply delay the issue for three years. The city of St. Charles is not likely to join the county's recycling program, explained Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman. The city's independent contract for recycling and garbage collection provides for some economies, and thus it was not likely to end its independent contract to be served under the county's recycling program in the future. For that reason, even if the per-parcel fee were removed from St. Charles property taxes, the county would still owe them the rebates for the fees already paid.
While board members seemed to agree that the per-parcel fee should be removed, they asked that the tax implications of issuing rebate checks directly to residents be further reviewed by County Attorney Karin Sonneman.
The county has a reserve fund for the recycling program that contains $1 million. It collects less than $250,000 annually in per-parcel solid waste fees to help fund the program. Any rebates offered to St. Charles residents would further draw down the reserve fund.