There is a story that has been told several times (in recent Polk County Newsletters and by the news media) but I don't think that the significance of it has really been comprehended or appreciated by all that many.

There is a story that has been told several times (in recent Polk County Newsletters and by the news media) but I don’t think that the significance of it has really been comprehended or appreciated by all that many.

The story is this: Polk County now has the best solid waste disposal program in the State of Minnesota and likely in the entire Upper Midwest area, too.

The best part of this story is that the $24.25 million upgrade of facilities and equipment recently completed at Fosston, Crookston and at the Polk County Landfill near Gentilly came without even one dollar of cost that will have to be paid for by property taxes.

The local share

Projects that get state grant funding — in this case the state money totaled $17.25 million — almost always have a “local share” cost associated with them. Polk County issued a $7 million bond for its local share but repayment of that bond will not be paid with property taxes but by tipping fees that are collected when solid waste is dropped at the incinerator in Fosston.

There is nothing new about tipping fees. Tipping fees have been collected for the handling of solid waste ever since the incinerator was built and they have not been increased.

Revenue from the sale of recycled items retrieved from the waste stream and
other income will also be used service the $7 million debt.

As a result, the $24.25 million in projects come without any county taxpayer cost! Now, that’s the real story.

Two state grants

The $17.25 million in State Capital Assistance Program (CAP) grants — the $8 million that was approved by the State Legislature in 2015 coupled with the follow-up $9.25 million that was approved during the 2017 session — covered the cost of the 18,000-square-foot expansion of the Resource Recovery Facility (incinerator) in Fosston and the new waste processing equipment that was installed in that building.

Of the grant money, too, about $500,000 was used for the development of an organics compost pad at the Polk County Landfill and for equipment there that can shred wood, large trees, construction waste, furniture, tires, shingles and other materials.

Transfer stations

The grant money also supported some of the cost of construction of new transfer stations in Crookston and Park Rapids (Hubbard County) and for the renovation/upgrading of the Beltrami County station in Bemidji.

Six counties — Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Mahnomen, Norman and Polk — send their solid waste to the Resource Recovery Facility/Material Recovery Facility in Fosston.

Much of the credit for these upgrade projects goes to Polk County Environmental Services Administrator Jon Steiner, who conceived and promoted them to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which then approved them for funding by the legislature.

As for a bit of Steiner’s role in all of this, let me first give my thoughts about how good public employees— and Polk has quite a number of them — are given the opportunity to excel:

The first principle is that the county must make every effort to hire good people. Then, as the employee proves him/herself and develops on the job, the county tries to give them the things that they need to do that job. After that, well, it’s time to get the heck out of the way.

In Steiner’s case, there was no choice other than getting out of the way. He made sure that it happened.

A more detailed report on all that has been accomplished with these solid waste
projects could be provided here but why further elaborate on a story that for us property taxpayers has only this simple summation:

Polk County got one heck of deal and Jon Steiner, who had earned and was given a lot of rope, made sure that it happened.

Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of Commissioners.