Interlocal agreement hits snag

Negotiations for a solid waste disposal interlocal agreement appeared to hit a dead end with only glimmers of hope Friday at a regular payroll meeting for the Marion County Commission.

But with some of the parties saying the hope was actually a probability of agreement, a meeting was to be scheduled within a week between the commissioners and representatives of the county’s cities to finalize an agreement.

KC Development, operators of the solid waste transfer station in Marion, is five years into a 10-year contract with the county commission. They say the county has not been honoring it, forcing them to collect operation fees under a variety of agreements with cities and waste haulers. The county is attempting to satisfy the contract through the interlocal agreement with cities.

The cities would like changes in the agreement, but any bending of the contract would also require the agreement of KC Development-and that reduces the probability of an agreement to only hope.

Rex Savage, co-owner of KC with Theo Bond, said repeatedly that KC would cooperate in the process only if the county honored the contract by paying a net due the transfer station of $4,715.92 by 5 p.m. Friday.

The bill presented by Savage was due Oct. 31 with a 30-day grace period, as per terms of the contract. Credits for the total bill of $32,956 included $25,740 already received from cities and collectors, a credit of $1,184 for the city of Peabody going to the Harvey County Landfill, and a 6 percent estimated residential vacancy rate credit of $1,316.63 leaving the $4,715.92 due.

The total bill was calculated with 4,161 county households receiving trash service at $6.25 each and 695 businesses at $10, the totals figured with counts from the county appraiser’s office.

In a discussion dominated by the parties’ attorneys, Savage’s repeated requests that the bill be honored was possibly only upstaged when Commissioner Howard Collett interjected his analysis of the situation.

First apologizing to the county’s attorney, James Kaup of Topeka, for breaking silence, Collett said, “I’ve been holding my tongue as long as I can.”

Collett outlined what he said has been the county’s “cheap-trash policy” that dates back 20 years ago when the state required cities to give up “creek bank dumps,” and the county, “at the behest of the towns,” opened the landfill southwest of Marion.

He said the county continued to try to keep trash policy cheap by stalling off Kansas Department of Health and Environment requirements, and operating it as a non-permitted landfill for three years before KDHE and federal regulators finally said no.

“So then we went to contracting for a transfer station as fast as possible,” he said.

Collett said the county kept its cheap-trash policy in place, asking all the while for more problems with KDHE. Now it is faced with a court-ordered closing of the dump, a $35-million lawsuit from landfill companies, and a possible KDHE-approved reopening and expansion of the dump by the same companies.

Collett said: “We didn’t keep our word, and now we have no credibility with the state. If we can work out a policy with KC Development so we can keep our word on this contract, then I am for it.”

Commission Chairman Leroy Wetta said he shared Collett’s feelings and most of his analysis. He said he wanted KC to continue to serve the county. He said his investigations, when considering buying out KC, had shown the county would have difficulty doing for $10 what KC does for $6.25.

Kelly Johnson, attorney for several of the cities but acting as spokesperson for all of them at this meeting, said the cities did want to propose changes in the interlocal agreement, but wanted mostly “a seat at the table” to help determine what they are going to pay.

“It’s in everybody’s best interest to work out some kind of a deal,” Johnson said. “We need the trash service, KC needs the customers, and we are willing to pay a reasonable cost.”

In response to a question from Kaup, Johnson said the final agreement could be a formal or an informal agreement if that’s what it took to make things work.

He said he wanted to make sure the cities don’t pay for trash service for empty buildings and lots. Savage responded that the mechanisms are in place with the county appraiser for cities to document those vacancies so they aren’t charged.

Johnson said he didn’t think the situation needed to be confrontational, but if the cities needed a new agreement, he didn’t think KC could enforce the contract.

Savage said, “From our point of view, we do have a contract, and we are not amused reading in the newspapers that it might be given away. We have a contract that was the result of a public bidding process. We have made your trash go away under the terms of the contract, and we expect to be paid.

“We are willing to look at anything mutually beneficial, but we ask that the terms of the contract be honored.

“We have been left out in the corner without much information except what we read in the papers, and we are not going to allow you to unilaterally negotiate us out of a contract. I would like to see you be in our shoes to explain to our banker…how our $600,000 investment could be without the contract.

“You three guys (commissioners Wetta, Collett and Bob Hein) know how hard we work to avoid any excesses before we bring the bill in.”

Wetta said the commissioners realized that.

When Johnson said the newspaper accounts could be inaccurate or sensationalized, Savage said he had no reason to think that they were anything but “plainly truthful.”

Savage said if payment wasn’t made, he disliked going “to the next action prescribed in this document.”

In response to a suggestion from Bond that, “since everybody seems to want a piece of it,” the commissioners buy the transfer station from KC, Collett repeated Wetta’s assertion that appraisal and operations analysis of the transfer station had proven the county couldn’t run it as cheaply as KC.

Kaup said he hoped for an agreement by reducing friction with a settlement that would be mutually beneficial for KC and the cities. He and Johnson agreed to see what could be worked out with an informal agreement.

In response to questions, Collett said only rural residents who have trash service are included under the contract, and that farm dumps or trash burns are still allowed.

Commissioners said Monday they had not made the payment called for by KC, and would wait for the final agreement before proceeding.

In other business

County Clerk Carol Maggard reported this past month’s animal-care bill for the horses confiscated this past March under animal-cruelty laws west of Marion was $10,042.25, bringing the total bill to $80,768.10.

She said sales tax collected for September in the county was $35,864, down from $47,470 a year ago, but still ahead $13,284 for the year.

She said the September total was the lowest since the county began tracking sales tax in 1996.

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