July 9, 2023 at 11:35 a.m.
WALKER — Environmental Services Director Jeff Woodford updated the board regarding the nine county construction and demolition landfill study at the regular board meeting held Wednesday, July 5.
Woodford stated the former director John Ringle began working with a nine county northwestern Minnesota group in early 2022 to discuss upcoming state issues with construction and demolition landfill restrictions and closures. During this update it was noted that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has identified unlined construction and demolition landfills as a source of groundwater contamination. Therefore, all unlined construction and demolition landfills will be phased out over the next several years with no permits being reissued. Woodford shared with the board that all of the rural construction and demolition landfills are unlined and this is the most common local solid waste infrastructure in rural counties.
During this update, Woodford went over four possible options to consider moving forward. The first options was for the county to do nothing and allow the closure of the landfills. With this option it would leave the disposal up to the contractor which would lead to expensive long-distance hauling, illegal disposal of waste in a neighboring facility, illegal disposal of either open burning or dumping on public property/ditch or burial. Some of these options may lead to increased costs for projects or poor relations with neighboring counties.
The second option Woodford mentioned was to upgrade the unlined landfills to a lined landfill. In order to convert current unlined landfills, several factors need to be met including the size of landfill needed, soil type, area for expansion, proximity to receptors, access to clay soils, and more. An estimated cost to convert one location within Cass County was shared, with the estimated cost for 2023 being around $7 million, an estimated cost for 2024 was approximately $600,000 more and increasing by approximately another $700,000 and $800,000 for the following two years.
Option three would include a “Hub and Spoke” system with each county having a central location within the county for disposal. Cass county would fall into the large spoke category and Woodford stated would utilize the Pine River Transfer Station location. The projected cost to convert this site would be approximately $5.03 million, but there were several differences noted between constructing a new lined landfill and constructing a regional hub with those being: larger footprint, more leachate to collect and manage, more staff required to operate, more and larger heavy equipment and more rigor in permit applications and reports.
The final option given was a modified “Hub and Spoke” system with that difference being one of the hubs not being constructed, but this option would not change the cost to Cass County. Woodford mentioned no decisions needed to be made today, but will need to be decided in the near future.
County Administrator Josh Stevenson reported back to the board regarding two committee meetings recently held. The first report was in regards to Deep Portage Learning Center with a request to allow Deep Portage to utilize the remaining $290,000 from the roof replacement project for capital projects rather than reducing the payback budget. Along with that request, Deep Portage would like the county to consider entering into a 50 year lease agreement that would include the five year and 50 year budget items along with an annual report presented to the commissioners. Commissioner Jeff Peterson and Neal Gaalswyk motioned and seconded the request and to work on a 50 year lease agreement with all board members approving unanimously.
The second report Stevenson shared with the board was regarding employee health insurance benefits. It was shared that the insurance committee met and discussed current health insurance costs to the county. Currently the county levys for approximately $3.67 million in the payroll budget with $925,062 of those funds being diverted towards ancillary or cash benefits. Stevenson stated Cass County requires all employees to enroll in the county health insurance plan with the majority of employees electing to enroll in the single plan with the $1,000 comprehensive major medical plan, which is the most costly plan to the county. Stevenson stated currently there is a monthly walk away benefit for single plans with range from $290 - $426 per month and over 77% of employees are taking this cash option, which last year resulted in a $414,000 loss to the county. Therefore, the recommendation from the committee to the board was to assemble an insurance committee agenda that includes a plan to stop providing insurance contributions as taxable income using a phased in approached and switch the $3,000 Comprehensive Major Medical (CMM) and $3,750 High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) costs to match exposure with a goal of not requiring all employees to be on the plan. Commissioners Gaalsywk made a motion and Commissioner Bob Kangas seconded the motion, with all board members approving unanimously.
In other business, the county board:
• Approved the direct sale of five acres of tax forfeited land to Hiram Township upon all necessary appraisals and surveys for construction of a new town hall.
• Approved a Law Enforcement Agreeement with Northland Community Schools to provide additional law enforcement services for the 2023/2024 school year in the amount of $61,628 and advertise and fill an additional Deputy Sheriff position.
• Approved cleaning contracts for the Health, Human Veterans Services and Highway buildings in Walker with a 30 day termination notice.
The next meetings are as follows: Commissioner’s board meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 18 at Homebrook Township Town hall 3204 88th St. SW, Pequot Lakes and commissioner’s board meeting 9 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1 at the boardroom in the courthouse annex in Walker.
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