County begins program to track landfill visits

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | December 23, 2020 1:00 AM

A new punch-card system will allow Flathead County homeowners to drop off three oversized loads of garbage at the county landfill each year, free of charge beyond the existing annual assessment for solid waste.

The county mailed roughly 56,000 punch cards with homeowners' property tax bills in late October and early November. Starting in January, homeowners will have to show the cards when depositing oversized loads at the landfill along U.S. 93, or pay the "gate rate" of $31.05 per ton. Each hole on the card is valid for one load from a homeowner's residence that fits in a single-axle trailer or the bed of a 1-ton pickup truck. Each card is good for the 2021 and 2022 calendar years.

Dave Prunty, the county's public works director, said the system was needed because annual assessments of $80.73 cover only normal amounts of bagged household garbage – "the stuff that you put in the Hefty bag in the kitchen" – yet some residents arrived at the landfill expecting to deposit multiple oversized loads at no additional cost. There was no system in place to track who was paying and who wasn't over the course of a year.

"We would allow folks to bring in an oversized load, and even just defining the oversized load was difficult. And when those folks came in, you were going to get one a year, and we couldn't track it," Prunty said. "It was a mess, quite honestly."

The landfill took in a record 143,000 tons of garbage during the fiscal year that ended June 30. Because the county lacked detailed data on where all that trash came from, the decision to grant three free loads per year to every homeowner was somewhat arbitrary, Prunty said.

For simplicity, solid waste officials defined an oversized load as the amount that can fit in a 1-ton pickup bed or a single-axle trailer. Punch cards weren't sent to contractors or people who own land without homes on them, so the gate rate will apply to larger amounts of construction waste.

Moving forward, the solid waste department will track how many homeowners use their punch cards and how often, in order to make any needed adjustments in the future, Prunty said. The Flathead County Solid Waste Board approved the plan, which was also communicated to the county commissioners, he said. It involves no increase in taxes or garbage assessments.

Prunty said it's important that homeowners keep the punch cards included with their tax bills; the county won't grant additional cards or replace lost ones.