Rice County environmental services director Julie Runkel’s crusade to improve the county’s solid waste system took a leap forward on Tuesday.

During their weekly meeting, the Rice County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution that would allow the county to spend $15,000 to do a life-cycle analysis studying every aspect of the solid waste system in the county — from the tonnage coming in to space filling up to the fees. Information from the study could be used to find efficiencies and to create long-lasting improvements for the system.

“We’ll be able to look at all our options,” Runkel said. “I think this will be a good tool that we’ll benefit from in the long-term.”

The county will enter into a contract addendum with its landfill engineering contractor Foth Engineering. Runkel said Foth will put together spreadsheets that county staff can be trained to use and analyze.

“This analysis will give us a base case of the existing system,” Runkel said. “We’ll be able to look at our options in the future if we ever wanted to divert waste or capture more revenue or things like that.”

In November, Runkel said, historically, environmental services has been self-sustaining. Expenditures have been sufficiently covered by revenue from environmental service fees for activities like dumping at the landfill or applying for a permit.

But 2014 will be a different story. Due to a cell construction project at the county landfill, Runkel estimated during budget planning in 2013 that her department’s expenditures will exceed revenues by at least $267,666. That difference will have to be made up by dipping into reserves.

“We had scheduled a capital purchase of a landfill loader for 2014 for $375,000 as well,” Runkel said during her budget presentation to the board. “But after discussions with the auditor/treasurer, we decided to put off that purchase until a later date.”

Charges for service has always been environmental services’ biggest revenue stream at about $2.5 million in 2013, and the tipping fee from the landfill has made up a significant portion of that revenue.

“The tipping fee at the landfill has not been increased since 1997,” Runkel said. “As our rates stay constant and everyone else’s skyrocket, we’re going to see increased usage at our landfill with increased cost.”

In a six-year analysis Runkel put together with help from auditor/treasurer Fran Windschitl, Runkel said her department will have to end up spending at least $1.17 million in reserve funds between 2014 and 2019 if the department’s fee schedule is not updated.

“With those low fees, we’re basically subsidizing our garbage haulers. It makes no sense to me,” said Commissioner Galen Malecha in last week’s meeting. Early analysis of the 2013 budget shows that Rice County waste management had a deficit of nearly $220,000. The landfill alone was in the red by $406,500.

The commissioners approved Runkel’s proposal for the solid waste system analysis 4-0, with Commissioner Steve Bauer absent.

Reach reporter Cristeta Boarini at 333-3135. Follow her on Twitter.com @CristetaBoarini

Born and raised in suburban Chicago, Cristeta graduated from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities with a degree in journalism and cinema studies in 2011. She began working with the Faribault Daily News in September 2012.