Becker County will save about $140,000 a year if the state Legislature switches to a fairer way of collecting sales tax on garbage “tipping” fees, says Becker County Commissioner Ben Grimsley.

The county sends about 65% of its garbage to a clean incinerator in Perham, and sends the rest to the Fargo Landfill.

The county pays a $130 per ton tipping fee -- to do the environmentally friendly thing and burn trash at the Perham Resource Recovery Facility -- and $65 a ton to bury it in Fargo.

That’s fine, says Grimsley. Several years ago the county made a strategic decision to pay more and do the right thing by the environment.

But what burns commissioners is that Becker County also pays twice as much sales tax to the state -- about $140,000 a year more -- for garbage shipped to Perham as it would pay to ship that same garbage to Fargo.

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“We should certainly get a lower rate,” Grimsley said in an interview. “The cheapest thing is to put it in the ground -- there should not be a punitive tax on somebody that’s trying to do a good job.”

Ben Grimsley
Ben Grimsley

“When we send garbage to Perham, they look at that almost like recycling,” said Steve Skoog, environmental services director at Becker County. “It’s turned into steam used in industrial production, it’s a more benign product. Ashes are less likely to be hazardous (than garbage buried in a landfill).”

Minnesota’s 17% commercial sales tax on garbage is based on tipping fees and other costs, including collection, transportation, processing, disposal, administrative fees and fuel surcharges, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

That’s the tax the county pays on the costs of moving garbage from its transfer station to Perham or Fargo.

The commercial tax is similar to the 9.75% sales tax that is tacked on to residential garbage bills in Minnesota.

The clean incinerator in Perham, which is 22% owned by Becker County under a multi-county joint powers agreement, turns mixed municipal solid waste into steam that is sold to Perham manufacturers.

Grimsley sits on the Association of Minnesota Counties’ General Government Committee, and narrowly missed having his proposal adopted as part of the AMC’s influential legislative platform last year.

“This year I’m quite confident it will be adopted to their platform,” he said. “We’re going to see some movement on it.”

“This is an issue that AMC is aware of and has had discussions about,” Brian Martinson, Environment and Natural Resources Policy Analyst for AMC, said in an email. “The effort to address this issue at AMC has been led by Becker County Commissioner Ben Grimsley and supported by Becker County Commissioner Barry Nelson.”

The AMC Annual conference is Monday through Wednesday, Dec. 9-11, Martinson said, adding that “at the conference we will be considering new platform positions including one on this subject that has been sponsored by these Becker County commissioners. The language of that amendment will be considered by two policy committees and the general assembly for possible inclusion in the AMC platform.”