Despite stern language from Hays City Commissioners in July, the Ellis County Commissioners in measured discussion at their Aug. 5 meeting agreed to offer the city of Hays a discount on landfill costs.

With City of Hays the county’s biggest landfill customer, the deal amounts to a three-year volume tonnage discount, plus some continued deep discounts on tree and construction trash, and some flexible operations.

Right now the city pays $75 a ton to dump its municipal household trash at the Ellis County Transfer Station, 1515 W. 55th St.

The bulk discount would start Sept. 1, with the county charging $72 a ton to any hauler bringing in more than 300 tons a month of municipal waste. That rate would continue for 16 months through 2020, then would increase $1 in 2021 to $73 a ton, and another dollar in 2022 to $74 a ton.

The city of Hays in 2018 brought in 5,147 tons, which is 43 percent of the total tonnage of the municipal household waste delivered to the landfill, according to Ellis County Public Works Director Bill Ring.

Since 1994 when the county stopped burying its trash, county trash has been trucked by a third-party private hauler to Garden City for disposal there. Construction and demolition materials are still buried at the county landfill, which operates at a profit and not relying on taxpayer money. Hays residents are the biggest customer.

“And when you look at the overall volume of the landfill, they’re approximately 33 percent of our total trash intake for all kinds of trash,” Ring told the county commissioners at their Aug. 5 regular meeting.

At the new rate, figuring an average of 5,100 tons, that’s an an annual cost savings to Hays of $15,000, Ring said.

City of Hays officials have talked about raising the city’s trash and recycling rates for the first time since 2006, possibly 15 percent. The city’s trash and recycling expenses are higher than revenue from fees.

City officials told city commissioners in July they had asked the county for a discount rate going forward, but hadn’t received a formal answer to the request.

At that time, City Commission Chair Henry Schwaller IV was angry at the lack of an answer from the county, and threatened the city might go with a private hauler and stop using the Ellis County Transfer Station.

Ring pointed out to the Ellis County Commissioners on Aug. 5 that a switch could pose problems for Hays residents.

“The transfer station that they’ve been talking about is very specific in the types of waste they do take and the types they don’t take. If you have a large chair or a couch, they don’t take that, we do,” Ring said. “They don’t take any trees, they have no outside services. We provide e-waste, we provide household hazardous waste, which is somewhat of a break-even or less proposition, but again it’s a service that we provide the community.”

“I think it’s important that we do try to work together with the city; we don’t want to lose them for a customer,” County Commissioner Butch Schlyer said to Ring. “If the city were to go away, to not accept this proposal, that would have some ramifications against city trash users, would it not?

“That’s correct, it would,” Ring said.

“We’d have to change some of our operations?” Schlyer asked.

“That’s correct as well,” Ring said.

“I know this week I’ve been hauling a lot of rock and dirt out to the landfill, and I just go in there and dump it out and leave,” Schlyer told Ring. “No cost to me at all. And I’ve got a pile of branches I’m going to haul out there. So some of that could change, if we lost the city as a customer.”

Ring said it would definitely have to change. Currently the city supplements Ellis County $1,000 a month so residents can dump trees. With the large volume brought in, that ends up costing the county $7,626 a year, he said.

“The same thing with the city-wide cleanup,” Ring said. “We don’t charge them for construction and demolition, or as we call it the C and D waste, during that time period. They just pay for the municipal waste, because that has to get hauled. But that’s another roughly $5,000 that we let them dump for free. So you’re at $12,000 to $13,000 right there that they’re getting at somewhat of a discount because it’s not shown, it’s just not charged.”

“Not counting from an ice storm, where everybody hauls out truckloads of trees for free,” said County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst.

“Correct,” Ring said. “In 2016 we took in 2,000-plus truckloads of trees from the city for free.”

“That was a donation on our part,” Haselhorst said.

“We have to manage it, we have to burn it, we have to take care of the ash; it’s very time consuming for the guys out there,” Ring said. “We definitely don’t want that getting away so we have to monitor it. We run a very limited staff out there as well.”

The county has a big investment in equipment, said Haselhorst, noting the trash compactor, big Caterpillar loader, dozer, backhoe, grader and scraper.

“A million dollars wouldn’t even cover it,” he said.

County Commissioner Dustin Roths praised landfill foreman Vernon Ruder for his management at the landfill and transfer station.

“From all I’ve heard, Vern, you’re doing a great job,” Roths said. “Even some of the stories that I’ve heard in passing, of Vern taking time around say Thanksgiving to run out there to let the city of Hays trucks get emptied so that the guys could get out early in the morning, things like that, we want that business to be a good business for them to work with as well.”

The new rate structure gives the city a lot of wiggle room, Ring said, but at the same time will benefit private haulers dumping large volumes, particularly as more homes are built out in the county.

“You’ve got private haulers out there, if they start bringing in more municipal waste, they’ve got the opportunity to pick up a couple dollars a ton,” Ring said.

Any hauler bringing in less than 300 tons a month would pay $75 a ton, according to the new rates.

“The things that maybe we do out there that aren’t well appreciated, but I will echo with Butch that whatever is good for Ellis County is good for the City of Hays and vice versa,” Roths said. “If staff thinks it’ll work at this tonnage amount, I’m happy to give them this deal.”