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County board approves doubling solid waste fee in 2019: First increase since 2005

Douglas County taxpayers will see the solid waste fee from Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management double on next year's tax statements. Steve Vrchota, executive director of the waste-to-energy facility, asked for the increase at the regular Douglas County Board meeting Tuesday morning and commissioners approved it.

Vrchota explained that the fee was set at $45 in 1987 and has remained relatively the same ever since. Currently, the fee is $48.

In a document presented to the board, Vrchota said the fee was reviewed by Pope/Douglas' long-range planning committee, which recommended an increase based on the following items:

• Increase in services — In 1993, the facility served an estimated 1,000 people and had limited services to offer. Vrchota told commissioners that in 2017, roughly 9,000 customers were served, and services now include light bulb recycling, battery collection, paint collection and recycling of numerous products.

• Requirements — In 1994, the facility was a high-functioning, state-of-the-art building. But due to growth, along with expanded services, the facility has limited space and is limited in its ability to take on additional materials that are regulated by the state. The facility will require extensive upgrades to meet its requirements in the future, said Vrchota.

• Capital projects in the material recovery facility — The material recovery facility was installed in 2003 with an estimated lifespan of 15-20 years. It has seen significant wear and tear, according to Vrchota, and will require substantial capital to keep it functioning.

• Catch up on funding based on cost-of-living adjustments — The buying power of $45 in 1987 is now equivalent to $98. Vrchota said on a straight comparison basis, this would indicate that the service fee be near $98, and that does not account for the loss of funding between service fee increases.

One of the commissioners mentioned that the Douglas County Board's approval had to be done in conjunction with Pope County. Vrchota noted that Pope County had already approved it.

In other action

Douglas County commissioners approved several more items, including the following:

• A permit for Someplace Safe's Taking Steps Against Domestic Violence Walk, scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 5 p.m.

• The 2018 Domestic Violence Awareness Month proclamation for October for Douglas County.

• A resolution recognizing Hilltop Lumber as this year's recipient of the Business Industrial Appreciation Day award, and a proclamation marking Oct. 30 as Hilltop Lumber Day in Douglas County.

• A new policy states if a landowner does not take care of maintaining private ditch crossings and repairs as needed to take care of any obstructions, the county will send a letter that states if the ditch is not taken care of, the county will do so and bill the landowner.

Health insurance

Health insurance rates for non-union employees for 2019 were also approved, but the vote was split 3-2. Commissioners Jim Stratton and Keith Englund were opposed.

County Coordinator Heather Schlagen explained that the cost for the insurance is split 50/50 between the county and employees. Englund asked what the deductibles were and Schlangen told him the county provides graphs to the employees showing the deductibles amounts. There are four different coverage options for employees and several options for family coverage, she said, so there are many deductibles.

Stratton wanted to know how the insurance compares to the insurance for union employees and Schlangen replied, "It's more money."

She also noted that both non-union and union employees have the same options except for law enforcement employees, who have insurance through a different program, the Public Employee Insurance Program. The sheriff, however, has the same insurance that is offered to non-union employees since he is an elected official.

Susan Anderson, who works in the assessor's office and was seated in the audience Tuesday morning, asked Schlangen again what the deductibles were. Schlangen offered her the graphs, which were printed on a couple sheets of paper, but Anderson said, "Can you just tell me what they are?"

Schlangen did, noting that the family deductible was $7,125 and the deductible for single coverage was as follows: diamond level was $1,663; sapphire level was $2,295; ruby level was $2,871; and emerald level was $3,355.

Commissioner Owen Miller then gave Anderson a copy of all the deductibles.

A public works employee, who was attending the meeting, asked Schlangen if there was an option for county employees to switch to PIEP. He was told there was not.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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