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Perham, Otter Tail County eye joint powers pact for incinerator

PERHAM - It wasn't exactly a warm, fuzzy moment of fellowship, when three Otter Tail County representatives attended the April 13 Perham City Council meeting.

However, it appeared to be a small step forward in the two-year struggle to restructure the city and county's relationship with the Perham Resource Recovery Facility.

The city's solid waste incinerator, which services Otter Tail, Wadena, Stearns and Todd Counties, has been the center of sometimes-tense discussions.

At issue, among other matters, is a governing structure for the facility. Perham officials have been concerned about losing control of the operation--which is run by the city. The city also is concerned about the future of the approximate $84,000 annual administrative fee.

A new agreement, that establishes a joint powers board of city and county officials, was discussed at the April 13 Perham council session. The new structure, which was proposed by a consulting firm that was hired for $10,000, includes an executive committee. The joint powers board, which would included city representation, would set budget and board policy. Then, day-to-day operations would be governed by the executive committee.

The agreement would also transfer full ownership of the incinerator facility to the joint powers board.

Attending the council meeting from Otter Tail County were County Commissioner Doug Huebsch, who represents Perham; County Commissioner Roger Froemming; and Otter Tail Solid Waste Director Mike Hanan.

A sticking point with the proposed governing structure is that it would only ensure an operating and maintenance agreement for one to two years.

"Why not a five to ten year agreement?" asked Perham Mayor Kevin Keil.

The contract with the city could continue indefinitely, said Hanan, but the initial one to two years would acclimate all the parties to the new joint powers structure.

"As long as the city continues to run the plant efficiently, why would we take it away from the city?" asked County Commissioner Huebsch. "We want the city in there to run it. We want local administration."

Huebsch said that the joint powers arrangement, with the city continuing as the operating entity, is a compromise. "We're trying to meet people half way," said Huebsch.

In related matters, the incinerator's county coordinating committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday, April 22, in Perham to further discuss the governance agreement.

In addition, the committee will be discussing correspondence with Becker County, regarding a contract that would bring Becker solid waste to Perham.

A contract with Becker has been of high interest for the future of the Resource Recovery Facility. The contract with Stearns County will end this year, so Becker could play a critical role in providing solid waste for the incinerator.

Becker's involvement could also revive stalled plans for a nearly $10 million expansion of the plant.

Officials from the Perham Resource Recovery Facility are planning to meet with the Becker County Board on April 28.