Solid waste management continues to be an ongoing discussion among the Harvey County Commission — particularly when it comes to recycling.

Over the summer, the county's outside contractor — Waste Connections — came before the commission to discuss renegotiating its contract, which is currently set to run through 2022. Lack of a market, as well as contamination rate among the county's recycling loads, led Waste Connections to propose a potential rate increase.

Current transfer fees agreed to between the county and Waste Connections are $14 per ton (with the county charging residents $18/ton), but Waste Connections brought a proposal forward in July that would see those rates jump to $110 per ton. Rates in Wichita are set at $120 per ton at the moment, according to Waste Connections Division Vice President Eric Bergin.

Part of the reason behind that proposed rate increase is the contamination Waste Connections is seeing among loads at the Harvey County Solid Waste transfer station, with the company doing two audits over the past two months to pinpoint how much of an issue that is.

Reporting back on the findings of its most recent audit to the commission on Monday, Waste Connections noted that through three days monitored in early October the average contamination rate among loads weighed was 36.33 percent. Acceptable contamination rates for Waste Connections are less than 10 percent.

Waste Connections has held informational meetings with city haulers to go over acceptable recycling, as well as highlighting Harvey County Resolution 2010-8 — which stipulates it is the responsibility of individual haulers to sort out any contamination.

"This is a tough situation for us. If we want to work together, we can," Bergin said. "We are going above and beyond to try and be a good business partner."

"I think what needs to happen is we need to eliminate our county's mandatory recycling and leave it up to the cities to boot people off of it who aren't in compliance. That's the only way you're ever going to get contamination down," said commissioner Randy Hague.

Bergin also presented research that showed this is not an isolated situation — providing a listing of cities across the country that have had to change their recycling contracts recently, either eliminating them completely or paying increased rates.

Questions were raised about what the cost would be for Harvey County if contamination rates dropped down to an acceptable level (i.e. five percent), with it noted that such a scenario could lead to new fees established at $60 to $70 a ton. Given that current trash rates for county residents are $33 per ton (and $31.75 per ton for the county to transfer), that issue still raised some concern among the commission.

"Folks, I want to be a good steward of the land, but when it takes two to four times the cost to recycle than it does to bury it do we want to dictate to our taxpayers that they have to spend that extra money? I don't think so," Hague said.

Harvey County is not the only party that could be impacted by contract changes, so it was suggested this discussion be held among the Council of Governments before any action is taken. Hoping to come to a solution that will help both parties sooner rather than later, Bergin also said he would try to submit another proposal (possibly one that could be amended quarterly) by the start of November.

In other business, the county commission:

Learned that four letters of intent for a hazard mitigation grant have been prepared between Harvey County Emergency Management and the Parks Department for outside warning sirens at all three county parks and a tornado shelter/bath house at West Park.
Scheduled a vote canvass following the Nov. 5 election for 2 p.m. Nov. 14.
Discussed the cancellation of upcoming meetings on Nov. 12 and Dec. 24.
Was informed that ICM is requesting another extension of the lease for its gasifier at the county landfill. Given the maintenance requirements that have been required of the Solid Waste department, the commission and administration discussed stipulating a monthly fee until the gasifier is removed.
Learned that, given the current issues faced by Harvey/McPherson County Community Corrections, changes to cost sharing/hosting responsibilities may be broached by the McPherson County Commission in the near future.
Heard the Parks Department's haunted trail was well-attended, with 350 people attending over two nights this past weekend.
Received word that 210 lbs. of prescription drugs were collected by the Harvey County Sheriff's Office as part of the drug take back day this past weekend.
Approved an application for a Kansas Overdose Data to Action mini-grant.
Approved revisions to the drug and alcohol testing policy for county CDL drivers. The revisions still prohibit the use of medical marijuana and also do not allow CDL drivers to use CBD oil as an excuse for a positive test.
Approved cabin rental agreements for the units at Camp Hawk.
With grant funds being received, approved the purchase of compost turner and water wagon for the Solid Waste department for $39,770 (minus the grant) from Midwest Bio-Systems Inc. That total was under what was budgeted.
Accepted a new — healthier — food and beverage policy for Harvey County-sponsored events.
Discussed possible plans for a biking/walking trail from Hesston to Newton and how future work on Hesston Road could impact that.
Approved Resolution 2019-22 for the placement of stop signs at Spencer Road (at the intersection with 125th Street) relating to a conditional use permit issued by the county in that area.
Received a report on Harvey County's third quarter finances, which are in line with the 2019 budget estimates.