Independence questions recycling grant formula


Hennepin County’s new formula for awarding recycling grants will favor more densely populated cities over cities in more rural areas, such as Independence, with money going increasingly to support organics recycling programs.

Independence City Councilors, Tuesday, Jan. 10 noticed the new formula when they were poised to accept a four-year SCORE grant from Hennepin County. The grant will defray Independence’s costs for the city’s recycling program.

After accepting the grant, the city council asked city staff to write to appropriate officials at Hennepin County asking for help for small cities in rural areas. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson was at the city council meeting. He said he supported Independence’s point of view.

At the meeting, the council also took up other business.

SCORE recycling grant funds come from the state and are distributed at the county level. The grant covers curbside recycling and recycling of organic materials, but Independence does not have organics recycling.

Under the new Hennepin County recycling grant formula, 80 percent of SCORE funds will be allocated in 2017 to curbside recycling and 20 percent to organics recycling. The formula increasingly favors organics recycling, so that 30 percent of SCORE funding will go to organics recycling in 2018, 40 percent in 2019 and 50 percent in 2020.

Last year Independence received $12,484 in SCORE grant money, according to Independence City Administrator Mark Kaltsas. With the increasing focus of the county grant formula on organics recycling, SCORE funding to Independence would be cut in half by 2020.

Mayor Marvin Johnson said he was disappointed with the county’s new formula for distributing SCORE funds to cities. Independence residents are less likely than residents of densely populated areas to recycle organic materials. In Independence, residents have the space to compost organic materials, such as food scraps. Independence is encouraging curbside, one-container recycling.

Hennepin County Commissioner Johnson said he shared Independence’s concern about the county’s SCORE grant formula. The county’s emphasis on organics recycling is not required by the state SCORE grant program.

“We should do what we’re required to do, rather than trying to be out front,” because of the situation with smaller rural communities such as Independence, he said.

Hennepin County Commissioner Johnson said Hennepin County has enacted a 4.8 percent increase in the county’s property tax levy for 2017, an increase about the same size as the one for 2016. The increase for 2015 was about three percent.

Johnson said a property tax levy increase of five percent year after year was “not sustainable” in Hennepin County because of changes in demographics. The county’s population is aging. The county will have to make budget changes as a result.

He said the county is beginning to make changes in the way it contracts with vendors, most of them non-profit organizations that provide services. An example is the corrections area affecting people who come out of prison. The county is beginning to pay for performance, thus “funding programs that actually work rather than every program that comes along.”

The county is starting to pay employees on a performance basis, Johnson said. This will be good for the county’s best employees.

He added that Independence City Councilor Brad Spencer is on a task force devoted to updating Hennepin County’s Comprehensive Plan. The plan update will show what people want the county to look like in 2040.

The city council also approved resolutions supporting Community Block Grant Funding for Western Communities Action Network (WECAN) and Senior Community Services, which serves Independence residents via the Delano Senior Center.

The council appointed City Councilor Brad Spencer as deputy mayor. He would serve when Mayor Marvin Johnson is absent.

During the meeting, the council re-appointed the Crow River News as the city’s official newspaper for publishing legal notices. These notices also will appear in The Pioneer and the Delano Herald Journal.

Independence City Council appointed Thomas Palmquist to a three-year term on the Planning Commission.

The council also set the date for the local Board of Appeal and Equalization at 7 p.m. on April 11 at Independence City Hall. Property owners will be able to begin the process of appealing the market values of their property that will be used for determining property taxes for taxes payable in 2018.

Lastly, the council approved the attendance of Mayor Marvin Johnson at the National League of Cities Congressional Congress from March 11 through 15 and the National Community Action Legislative Conference from March 15 through 17.