Council weighs landfill fee

The city of Superior has a solution to the municipal landfill financial woes without privatizing collection service or the landfill. But city officials acknowledge that solution isn't going to be popular, even though the cost is less than the pri...

Seagulls fly over garbage at the city landfill on Moccasin Mike Road Thursday. The Superior City Council on Tuesday will discuss a possible fee to cover the cost of the landfill and eliminate the need to privatize. (Jed Carlson/

The city of Superior has a solution to the municipal landfill financial woes without privatizing collection service or the landfill.

But city officials acknowledge that solution isn’t going to be popular, even though the cost is less than the price of privatization.

Tuesday, the Superior City Council weighs creating a $9.75 per month fee to cover the cost of collecting trash and maintaining the landfill.

With the new fee structure, the city would be able to maintain the services people are receiving today without affecting other city services. Services would include picking up more than one can, maintaining can size, and popular services like the free landfill day, brush pickup and spring cleanup, and hazardous waste disposal, said Public Works Director Todd Janigo.

After seeking proposals for the sale of the landfill and collection service, the city received only two bids, said Mayor Bruce Hagen. SKB out of the Twin Cities and Waste Management submitted the proposals.


SKB’s proposal would have allowed a potential purchase after a few years of operation and was rejected because it put the city at substantial risk, said Mayor Bruce Hagen.

While the proposal from Waste Management is one of the scenarios the Council could consider, the cost of service would be higher, at $11.25 per can, and the additional services the city provides would no longer be available.

Hagen said while Waste Management is an impressive company, it’s a more costly solution, one that the city would have no control over the cost.

"I think they could offer a very good service, but I think we can provide the service at a lower cost," said Jean Vito, senior administrative officer and finance director.

"We chose to maintain our current garbage service for a multitude of reasons," Hagen said. He said it’s less expensive, the city can control the rates and people of Superior appreciate the quality of service provided by the city.

While the Council had considered a $20 fee two years ago, three things have lowered that proposed cost, Vito said. She said that original projection included projected costs for a landfill expansion, didn’t include the recycling fee implemented last year, and didn’t take into account a potential extension of the city’s contract with Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, which covers a significant portion of the cost of maintaining the landfill.

The city plans to operate the landfill until available airspace is used up in 2022, when the landfill would close. The city is no longer considering an expansion, which could cost more than $4 million to get the necessary permits and wetland mitigation, before construction begins, Janigo said.

Two years ago, state legislation prohibited the city from implementing the garbage fee because the city would have been required to reduce its levy by an equal amount. The legislation singled out Superior, which owns one of two municipal-owned landfills in the state, and the only one that didn’t charge a fee for service. That legislation has since changed to allow the city to implement a fee.


"I will not support any additional subsidies from the general fund because it’s going to cost bodies and services to pack garbage," Hagen said.

Vito said the city has come to this over the course of many years, with restrictions on the city’s tax levy and declining shared revenue. She said before that, the city could afford the transfer to the landfill, between $850,000 and $1 million annually, but that is no longer possible without getting the money from other departments.

"In 2014, 2015, it became a competition (for funding) between police, fire, public works," Vito said.

The landfill could experience a cash deficit as early as next year if nothing is done, and overall city finances could be facing structural deficits as early as 2018 if there is no change in the city’s ability to raise revenue.

"It wasn’t so much an expense problem with the landfill; it was a funding problem," Vito said.

"I will not support the landfill at the cost of other city services," Hagen said. "If that’s the wish of the Council, I would have to veto that."

If approved, the new charge would be included in the quarterly bill for sewer, stormwater and recycling.

The Council considers the new fee at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 201 of the Government Center.

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