La Crosse County’s hazardous-materials program fees may rise

Special waste manager says program is so successful, it's losing money

More people are using the La Crosse County hazardous waste program, a trend officials say is mostly a good thing, but there are financial downsides that come along with its growing popularity.

“Last year we had about 800,000 pounds of waste come through this program,” special waste manager Randy Nedrelo said.

The household hazardous waste facility takes items like paint products and electronics and disposes of them in a way that keeps both people and the environment safe.

“What we’re doing is finding a way for people to easily dispose of toxic chemicals, paints, the kinds of gunk that collects in your house you really want to get rid of,” county board supervisor Maureen Freedland said.

“Five years ago, we had 6,000 people here (a year). The last three years had over 10,000,” Nedrelo said.

That doesn’t mean the money is flowing in along with the waste. The household hazardous waste program is actually losing money — about $120,000 over the past three years — and is on pace to have an additional $60,000 deficit this year.

That’s partly because of the way the funding is set up. Instead of users of the program paying per drop-off, the county and municipalities each pay a dollar per person a year.

“We feel that this is the kind of charge that needs to be spread over everyone so it’s available to everyone and people won’t have that second thought, ‘Should I go dispose of it illegally, or keep it and not worry about it?'” Freedland said.

But this charge hasn’t changed since the program started in 2003, and doesn’t reflect its growth.

“We’ve hired a full-time technician, disposal costs are higher and since the users aren’t paying, we’re not getting any more revenue,” Nedrelo said. “The success of the program has really led to the deficits we’ve been experiencing.”

A new proposal aims to fix that by raising the fee to local governments to $1.25, up a quarter per person a year.

“The 25 cents, it fills about that $60,000 gap,” Nedrelo said. He said it’s a start to keeping the service running, but it doesn’t leave the program any room to grow.

The proposal to raise the fee local governments pay for the hazardous materials program goes to the county board on Thursday. The county then has to make sure its 18 municipalities agree with it.

Officials said that 25-cent-per-person hike may just be the start, and the fee could go up in the future to reflect program growth.

While most drop-offs at the hazardous materials facility are free, Nedrelo said there is a $10 charge for televisions.