Safety, financial stability, land ownership, non-member use and the abuse of site trash containers (including disposing of hazardous material and overfilling of containers) were key among the issues highlighted at a membership meeting of the Teton County Refuse District 1 on Nov. 21 in Power.
David Klette, the chairman of the board that oversees the roll-off sites at Power and Dutton, said there are a number of issues and concerns. Klette and fellow board members Tom Fuhringer from Dutton and Marge Simonson and Dixie Gebhart from Power not only wanted to share their concerns but also to gather suggestions for solutions from the membership.
Klette said the district has 689 assessed members from Dutton, Power, the surrounding area and the Fairfield Bench. Presently there are 997 keys that have been issued; some are replacements for lost keys but that doesn’t explain all of them, Klette said.
Members of the Refuse District are assessed $164 yearly on their taxes. The district recently signed a five-year contract for trash collection and landfill services with Republic Services out of Great Falls. The district has a monthly container maintenance fee of $240 for six containers and a disposal fee of $27.33 per ton. The service includes removal of two containers at a time, at an average cost of $304 for the Dutton site and $253 for Power. Those costs vary depending on the tonnage in each load, Klette said.
Other district expenses include fees for licenses, permits, repairs, supplies, upkeep and contracts for attendants. The district is facing additional expenses to remove appliances containing refrigeration coolant and other hazardous materials.
The number of containers being filled has increased monthly. Given the current rate, the board is concerned the budget will not be sufficient to meet the growing demand and that there will be nothing left for other expenses, upkeep and improvements. They are seeing a 3% to 4% increase in cost each year.
The board members said they don’t want to see an increase in the assessment, but this might be considered if the financial picture doesn’t improve down the road.
Klette explained that all livable residences within the district boundary are assessed on their taxes. He said the district has allowed some to join the district outside of this boundary if they pay the assessment and obey the rules. Those living outside the district must contact the board to join. Part of the application process is receiving a copy of the site rules and regulations. “Upon signing the contact with the district, the member agrees to the rules and regulations,” Klette said. He added the member is given a key that can be used at either site. However, the key is for that individual’s use and is not to be shared with friends and neighbors.
Klette and board members have received complaints from district members and have witnessed firsthand non-members using the site, including by non-members from outside the county. Both sites have managers — Joe Widhalm in Power and Rick Shaffer in Dutton — who take care of basic maintenance, oversee closing full containers and deal with issues that arise, but the managers are not at the sites fulltime.
Solutions the board has considered include going to manned sites only, changing the locks and issuing all new keys, replacing keys with a card system that would include a solar-powered card reader and hardware and installing cameras.
Klette said each of these options has pluses and minuses. The board thinks replacing the keys would be a short-term fix, as copies will continue to be made and shared. The construction of a gate with card system would be effective, Fuhringer said, but it has a high price tag. He estimated a minimum of $40,000 and more than likely more for the system.
One concern regarding the making of a major change to the Power disposal site is that the district does not own the land. The site is located on land leased from the Bureau of Reclamation. The board is working with the bureau to purchase the land, but understanding the challenges facing such an aquisition, they would as a second option like to see the bureau turn over management of the land to the Greenfields Irrigation District. “It would be easy to work with the GID board on the usage of the land,” Klette said.
Klette said going to a manned site was not a popular solution in the past. If the district elects to go this route, it would look at switching to the Northern Montana Joint Refuse Disposal District service. NMJRDD provides services in Choteau for a manned site. Klette said officials with the service have been in contact with him and are still interested in offering this service. Being under contact with another firm, Klette wasn’t sure how the board would proceed with such a move.
Klette said there are issues at both sites, but concerns seem to be greater presently at the Power site. Switching to a manned site would need to be done at both sites if considered, Fuhringer said.
In addressing what is being disposed of at the sites, Klette said the refuse district site was formed for the disposal of household garage. “That hasn’t changed,” he added. Detailed information of what can be disposed of is provided to the members and posted periodically in local newspapers. However, there continue to be items discarded that do not meet the criteria. They especially spoke of construction companies filling containers with building material, and people discarding furniture, grass and trees. The district is required to follow the guidelines from the leasing company, the Bureau of Reclamation land use rules and Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
The Power site does not accept tree branches because the Montana DEQ closed the burn site there. Tree branches are still accepted at the Dutton site.
Any hazardous material placed in the containers must be handled separately and costs a considerable amount for the district. Klettle said there was hazardous material placed in a container in August. The site manager discovered it before the container was hauled away. Officials from Missoula had to take care of the material, which not only cost the district money but also closed down one container until everything was cleaned up. “We were fortunate the material was discovered before it was transported and dumped at the landfill in Great Falls,” Klette said. “If it would have been disposed there, the district would have been responsible for the cleanup of more than just the material, but also the site all around it.”
Klette said the board understands the challenges district members have in disposing of appliances with coolant, and they have offered members to place the item to the side of the containers and pay a $35 fee. “We continue to get these items dumped in the containers and are paying from the district,” Klette said.
In addition to the improperly disposed items, another major concern is overfilling the containers. “The container must be able to be closed for it to be moved,” Klette said. “People continually overfill the containers, resulting in the site manager having to move items, which is a huge safety concern.”
The 17 members present, in addition to the board, commented and made suggestions throughout the meeting.
Melody Berg expressed her opinion that the people who needed to be reminded of the rules and regulations are not present at this meeting. She questioned how the meeting was published and thought it would be better to send personal letters to all of the members of the district. She also suggested posting the rules and regulations near the containers so individuals can’t use the excuse that they don’t know them.
The board members said they had just recently obtained the data to do such a mailing.
Berg also said she thinks some of the new residents on the Fairfield Bench, many which own businesses, are using the site for commercial use instead of personal use.
“I have personally asked people with out-of-county license plates if they are members of the district when I see them at the site,” she said.
Former County Commissioner Arnie Gettel said he had placed a camera at the site at one point. It lasted less than a week before it was stolen, he said, but during the days it was operational, it showed someone dropping off garbage at 1 a.m.
Berg was the first to bring up having a manned site and saw it as a valid option given the challenges being faced.
Following general discussion of a manned site, Klette asked for a show of hands of those who would be in favor. He was pleasantly surprised that all in attendance were in favor. The members said their approval of a manned site would depend on the days and hours the site was open, allowing for some evening or weekend drop offs.
The board members expressed appreciation for the input they received, and said they will continue to discuss these issues and the options suggested at the meeting. The board said they welcome all to attend their meetings held the third Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Dutton Town Hall.