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Wells businesses not happy with bills for recycling

By Staff | Nov 27, 2015

A few Wells businesses are pretty upset over a $120 bill they received from the city of Wells for recycling.

The Wells City Council, during their meeting last Monday, reviewed their recycling policy for the use of the city drop site by commercial businesses.

According to city administrator Robin Leslie, an invoice was sent out last week to all businesses from an ordinance approved in the fall of 2014 requiring Wells businesses to pay for the use of the city recycling drop site.

“When we were getting the residential curbside pick up ready, the drop site was discussed at the same time in 2014. The county really wanted us to keep that for the surrounding townships. They then threw in commercial customers would also use the drop site,” said Leslie.

She stated that at the time, the council agreed to try and enforce a $10 per month charge for commercial use of the recycling drop site, which also included townships.

“The county pays $12,000 a year for us to keep the drop site open for townships and they reimburse us for that, but we were tasked with the bill for commercial use and we finally sent those bills out because the county wants that money by the end of the year,” said Leslie.

Leslie stated this would not be an issue if all the commercial sites were using the recycling drop site, but she says they are not.

“The bill was not taken very well in the business community,” said Leslie. “A lot of people forgot that was approved back in 2014. We made calls all last week, and to say the least, people were not happy.”

It was not the cost of the bill, itself, but rather that some commercial businesses had already contracted out recycling privately, or did not use the recycling drop site at all.

“Think of the businesses around here that have a lot of cardboard and other recyclables they not only have to pay their private contractors, but they have to pay the county recycling fee as well,” said Leslie.

According to the city administrator, there are also many businesses that essentially have a desk and take their recycling home and use their residential recycling, which would create another obsolete charge for those companies.

Leslie shared with the current council that this cost was a concern of hers with the 2014 City Council, when the idea of getting fees from commercial businesses was considered an afterthought.

“My two issues were that it wasn’t very fair because businesses should do what they want to do, plus some of them had already contracted out privately. Secondly, we have multiple businesses in one building, and each business got charged $120 because the county made the rule that each business be billed. So if one company shares a building with two other companies, each company (instead of the whole building) is charged the fee.”

There are also businesses in Wells that have multiple sites that would have been charged for each site, but Leslie said she would not charge the same business for multiple sites.

Not only that, Leslie stated that there are businesses that use the site only twice a year, making it a $60 bill per visit versus a business that uses it regularly.

“There are a lot of unhappy businesses in town, and I will tell you, there are a lot of people who will not be paying this fee,” said Leslie adamantly.

Mayor Ron Gaines said he received complaints at home about the fee, and was told that the county wanted nothing to do with the commercial fees and that it was all riding on the City Council.

“This is a part of the Martin County and Faribault County recycling program,” stated Leslie. “But the reason this got shoved onto our business community was because the county wanted the drop site at our recycling center to stay open. I understand that, it’s a valuable asset and I have no problem keeping it for now.”

Leslie’s official recommendation is to keep the recycling for residential citizens, but allow the business community to choose whether they would like to use the recycling drop site or to contract privately and assess how the township recycling goes next year.

“I don’t want us to get into becoming bill collectors. Once the first notices were sent out, that’s all I will be sending out. I’m not sending out second and third notices,” Leslie stated. “What the county is going to do is they will bill the city of Wells for 40-some businesses we have and I’m going to say, ‘here’s the money, this is it. If you want to collect it, collect it, because it’s not our responsibility.’ And to be frank, how are we supposed to monitor something like how often each business uses the drop site? We can’t police that.”

Gaines agreed. He shared that when he was on council at the time the decision was made, he was not in favor of the decision to bill businesses as well because he, too, felt the extra cost to them was unfair.

“At the time, the county said that was what we were going to do, and now they are saying they have nothing to do with it,” said Gaines.

Leslie says the end goal is to have people recycling in Wells, and the council does not want to deter that from happening. However they do want to give business owners the option of using the city drop site, or a private contractor for their recycling needs.

The motion to approve changing the policy in 2016 was passed by the council. Wells’ next step is to discuss the matter with Faribault County to see if they are open to the change in ordinance.