Winona County Commissioners decided Tuesday that residents of the city of St. Charles will get a rebate check in the mail for taxes imposed for a county recycling program — a program that did not serve St. Charles residents because that city has its own recycling contract.
The county began a “curb-side,” county-wide recycling program with an annual cost of $788,000 in December 2011, paid for in part with a $16 annual per-parcel fee imposed on all county property tax payers. Residents of St. Charles did not receive benefit from the tax, and county commissioners have grappled with how to reimburse residents for the fees.
Initially, county administrators told the board that if the county issued the 1,100 rebate checks, it would have to prepare W9 tax forms for each resident who received a rebate, estimating the work would cost the county $24,000 above the $52,000 total rebate amount. After it was determined that the rebates would not be considered taxable income and no W9s were needed, administrators told the board it would cost $14,000 to issue the checks.
Another option presented was a plan to give the rebate money to the city of St. Charles to distribute, which administrators said would cost that city $10,000 in extra work. Commissioners were also given the option of simply removing the per-parcel fee from St. Charles tax statements in future years, although board members said that would simply delay the problem of rebating the fees already paid to the county.
On Tuesday, board members decided to both provide rebates directly to St. Charles residents and to remove the per-parcel fee for 2014, since it is unclear whether the city will eventually opt to end its independent recycling contract and join the county program. Commissioners also clarified that the $14,000 in work was actually an estimated cost for existing county staff to issue the checks, and not an indication of an actual unbudgeted expense. County Administrator Duane Hebert estimated that the cost to issue one check was between $45 and $50 in staff time.
Commissioners Marcia Ward and Greg Olson preferred the option that would simply remove the fee for 2014, objecting to the cost of issuing the rebate checks. “We’re talking $48, less than a tank of gas,” said Olson. “I don’t think we need to be expedient. It’s not going to break a budget.”
“I think that if you were a business and recognized that you overcharged people, you have an ethical and moral obligation to make that right,” said commissioner Jim Pomeroy.
In the end, commissioners were unanimous in the rebate plan, although Olson and Ward expressed reservations. “We need to collaborate with entities in the future better,” said Ward. “This should have never happened in the first place.”