County Finance and Insurance Committee approves resolution to borrow $4 million

Lincoln County Landfill needs a new compactor and a new cell and Committee had no choice, they said


The Lincoln County Landfill needs a new compactor. The transmission on the landfill’s existing compactor recently went out, rendering it inoperable and landfill staff unable to compact trash, which means less trash is able to be deposited into the landfill and the space isn’t being properly utilized. The compactor literally compacts trash at the landfill, eliminating air space so more trash can be put into the same square footage. In really simple terms, think of it like stuffing more into your suitcase by sitting on it to compress the contents so you can zip it. Or probably more accurately, think about the storage bags that use a vacuum to suck all the air out of the bag so a huge comforter makes a small, flat package. It’s a similar concept. The Lincoln County Landfill needs to utilize a compactor on a regular basis to most effectively utilize our existing landfill space – which is running out at a faster rate than anticipated, as well. Of note, a track loader is also currently being repaired.

But first, the compactor.

The Lincoln County Finance and Insurance Committee met on Feb. 2, 2024, to assess the situation and heard from Keith Cohrs, Lincoln County Landfill Manager, who explained the need for the machine and lack of availability of a compactor to rent, even on a short-term basis, to enable them to fix the current compactor, which would cost about $50,000 to repair and is past its expected lifespan. He also explained that maintenance and replacements of machinery have been getting deferred for years.
As to getting a new compactor for the landfill, he did some research.
“There’s one available right now – they have it on reserve for us. If we agree to purchase that this week and payment next week, they will hold it for us or deliver it,” Cohrs said on Feb. 2. “If we do not do that, they have other people that are interested and they’re not going to wait three more weeks. If we wait three weeks and decide to purchase another piece, this is a remanufactured compactor, it will be 3-4 months for them to remanufacture another one and the price for remanufacture will go up $70,000 because CAT part prices continue to rise.”
Cohrs said this machine is also a larger machine about 40,000 pounds heavier, which is better suited to the volume of waste being handled at the landfill and will work more effectively.
Fenske explained: “The need [for the compactor] is about $700,000 and that’s just a little bit to cover in case something goes over because he’s got about $625,000 into the main compactor in and of itself, plus there’s freight, plus there’s mounting, and we have to buy wheels for it, so all-in it will probably be about $690,000 … $10,000 cushion there. Again the people he’s contacted, today is the day they need to know whether or not they can have it and then the next question becomes the funding source because right now they don’t have anything left in their Fund balance, they have about $568,000 in unreserved cash if I’m remembering correctly from at the end of 2023 or currently, and it’s an immediate concern. Every day that they don’t have the compactor, the more air space that gets wasted; therefore, the landfill gets filled faster.”
“In the meantime we don’t have a compactor because we can’t even find one to rent,” Committee Chair and County Supervisor Julie DePasse said.

Solid Waste Fund depleted

Lincoln County Finance Director Samantha Fenske reported on the status of the Solid Waste Fund that was originally put into place to address such issues and provide for replacement of machinery, landfill expansions, etc.
That Fund had a year-end balance of $6,043,079 at the end of 2003, but as of the end of 2022, the fund had only $258,031 remaining. Investment losses accounted for some of the loss in value, she said, but over the years former County Boards started tapping into the Solid Waste Fund to cover General Fund expenses, and that started draining the principal account balance. Fenske noted that in 2009 and 2010 via resolution $200,000 was transferred from the Solid Waste Fund to the General Fund, and then every year afterward it became part of the budgeting process to do the same thing.
When the current Board became aware of the problem, there was a motion and action at this Committee level to not have that transfer happen in 2023, which would have almost totally depleted that account, and they will request that no such transfer be made in 2024 either.

Landfill needs a new cell

And there’s another issue: In addition to equipment maintenance and replacement being deferred in recent years leaving the County Landfill with an equipment problem, the Lincoln County Landfill is also filling up faster than anticipated.
“The other things that are working into this is we have a landfill construction that needs to be done, and that involves a clay haul, engineering fees, and the liner construction,” Fenske said. “We’re kind of estimating that project to be around $2.1 million to $3 million. It’s really hard to estimate because every time we go out and we think it’s going to be this price, it ends up being a lot more, so we’re anticipating his total funding needs to be between $3 and $4 million to get the clay haul, the engineering, the liner construction …and the equipment he needs.”
The current cell was constructed in 2021, they were slated to build the next cell in 2025, but after reviewing tonnage reports they send in every month, the engineering firm anticipates we will run out of space this year, Cohrs said.
“I don’t think the next cell could even get built by July, and we’re going to run out of room before July, so we’re going to be handling waste more than one time,” Cohrs said. “We’re going to have to put it here (motioning with his hands) and later move it somewhere else.”
“Tonnages have gone up faster than anticipated. I don’t know if that’s because of COVID and people moving up here creating more waste, but this cell that we’re constructing this year was set to be constructed next year,” he said. Now it’s imminent.
“It’s just the economics of having out-of-county waste coming in at a higher rate has caused this cell to fill up much faster than anticipated,” Cohrs said.
“One of the other measures they took at the last meeting was to cancel those contracts where we have out-of-county waste coming in,” DePasse said, “because it’s a losing proposition and the fact that the taxpayers end up subsidizing out-of-county waste that comes into our landfill, so they made the decision to stop.”
The clay haul for the addition of the 2023 cell will have enough clay hauled to accommodate this cell and the next one, Fenske said. That’s something.
And “Two more cells [have been] approved by DNR,” Cohrs said. But “Moving forward we would have to make a decision … on whether or not we’re going to expand the landfill further or we’re going to seek some other options, and that decision should be made probably the end of this year or early next year.”
Finding a new landfill site will not only be very pricey, but “that’s about a four or five year process,” Cohrs said.
Discussion followed about rates, which were increased, the short- and long-term outlooks for the current landfill, and the Committee agreed these are all things that need to be explored further.
“Long-term anything can be fixed, but short-term we have this very immediate need,” DePasse said. “This is what happens when, for more than a decade, County Supervisors didn’t look at the long-term anything. Short-term decisions were made fiscally, over and over and over again. We went into debt to build a huge Service Center that we have to maintain, we went into debt to double the size of our Jail which is now half empty and we have to maintain and staff, [we] expanded Pine Crest – we went into debt to do that and now it’s half empty, … and the whole time we did that, we robbed money from literally every fund we have, we started subsidizing operating out of the CIP Fund, Solid Waste we started robbing $200,000 a year out of that Fund to subsidize operating, to subsidize more spending, and now we’re to the point where Sam [Fenske] estimated at the end of this year our CIP balance is going to be down to $64,000. We have $50 million worth of buildings, and we have $64,000. We’ve got less than $800,000 left of ARPA money, and our Unassigned Fund balance is less than $3 million. So our short-term options in my mind are really limited to bonding. We have to borrow this money to take care of this, and then we have to work on a plan to make sure that this doesn’t happen again and that we dig ourselves out of this hole that we all were given.”
“There’s lots to look at,” DePasse said. “We need to take a long-term view on everything.”

Committee votes to approve resolution to borrow $4 million

In the face of their current limited options and after hearing a presentation about bonding options from a Baird representative, the Committee decided short-term financing of $4 million was the best option to meet the Lincoln County Landfill/Solid Waste Department’s immediate needs for 2023. Fenske explained that comes out to about $22.50 per $100,000 of value on a tax bill.
“I like how you put it, Julie,” said Supervisor Lori Anderson-Malm. “We don’t have an option. We don’t have a choice right now. Because of how things were done from previous Boards, they presented us with this scenario that we’re dealing – that we’ve been dealing with now – and that we’re going to continue to deal with because nobody decided to do anything.”
Anderson-Malm made a motion, which was seconded and unanimously approved, to approve a bonding resolution for $4 million, to forward it to the Board, to authorize the ordering of the compactor, and to allow Fenske in the immediate term to use unassigned General Fund funds to pay for the purchase of the compactor with the anticipation of bonding being used to reimburse that, if that is approved, and if the bonding is not approved, the General Fund to cover that cost. The remainder of the funds not used for the compactor, anticipating Board approval, would be used to construct the new cell at the landfill this year.

An eye toward the future

“We’re going to start talking 2025 budget next month. … Just so we all know, that $200,000 cannot be taken out of Solid Waste anymore,” DePasse said. “That’s going to have to end, so that’s a $200,000 hole we’ll have to fill with regard to General Fund, and you all know we’ve been beating the drum on the same has to happen with CIP. We were able to get about $300,000 in operating expenses out of that this year just because of the State windfall but we’re going to have to do that, too. We have to shore up all of it.”

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