A committee of the Barron County Board of Supervisors is discussing the possibility of raising the tipping fee at the county incinerator by at least $3 per ton of trash – a move that could show up on the monthly garbage fees paid by thousands of Barron County residents.

The goal of the process is to make the county-owned incinerator (the only one of its kind in the state) a paying proposition, fund needed repairs to key pieces of machinery, and make it possible for the county to stop subsidizing the incinerator out of its general fund.

Funding adjustments come two years after the county came close to closing the incinerator after determining (in summer 2017) the facility was losing about $30,000 a month.

Instead of closing the incinerator, the county broke ties with the incinerator’s management company, Chetek-based ZAC, Inc., hired new management, took on the incinerator staff as county employees, and carried out several important upgrades, including a $410,000 smokestack installed at the plant last year.

The plant now faces estimated repairs to its water treatment system that could cost up to $180,000, and it still owes nearly $330,000 in repayments to the county general fund.

At its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, June 4, 2019 at Barron, the Board of Supervisors Solid Waste Committee went over the idea of a tipping fee increase in discussions with plant manager Ray Zeman and county administrative officials.

Zeman said that tipping fees were $22 per ton for in-county waste haulers in the early days of the incinerator – the late 1980s.

After remaining static for several years, the fee started going up in 1993. Further increases became more frequent until they reached $66 per ton for in-county haulers and $79 per tone for other customers, he added.

“I did a growth comparison (and found) if we had added a 3.6 percent increase each year since 1988, (the fees) would be very close to what they are now,” Zeman said.

As he prepared for the June 4 meeting, Zeman said he called Jon Snyder, general manager for Sarona, Wis.-based Republic Services, a private hauler in the region.

Zeman showed an email from Snyder indicating Republic charges customers $95 per ton with discounts for higher tonnage -- $81.56 for five tons and $79.72 for 10 tons.

The presentation showed the private hauler’s rates – even with the deepest discounts – were still $16 more expensive than the publicly-owned Barron incinerator.

Zeman said the incinerator could generate an additional $200,000 per year if it raised the tipping fee from $66 to $72 per ton, an amount that “would offset the $200,000 we get from the (county) general fund each year.”

Committee chair Bill Schradle, Dist. 7, towns of Turtle Lake, Vance Creek & Prairie Farm, recalled discussion on tipping fees in the past.

“There was not a great effort to increase fees more than $1 per year,” he said. “We fell behind big time, and we are paying for it today. We need to be very proactive to keep this (facility) above water.”

Committee members learned that county administrative staff members are trying to fit the pieces together to combine needed incinerator repairs and general fund reimbursements into a five-year, $525,000 State Trust Fund Loan.

The loan is part of a larger overall strategy to fund an unexpected $440,000 expense for the county’s 911 computer software, which will be discussed Friday, June 7, at a meeting of the county Executive Committee.