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Wisconsin garbage tax more than doubles

Wisconsin residents may be thinking twice before tossing things into the trash.

With the signing of the budget bill on June 29, garbage tipping fees increased from $5.60 per ton to $12.70 per ton. That brings Wisconsin's fee more in line with tipping fees in adjoining states.

The fee increase will take effect in two steps. Starting July 1, a $4.10 hike was implemented. The final $3 increase will take effect next month, starting Oct. 1.

Both Wisconsin and out-of-state haulers dumping in Wisconsin landfills will have to pay the increased cost.

Added revenue from the landfill tax will be used to decrease the state's budget deficit. Money isn't being directed toward waste or recycling programs.

"It's not a fair increase. It's going to hurt some smaller businesses," said Lori Stephens from New Richmond-based Stephens Sanitation.

Stephens was clear that her family's company, and the waste industry as a whole, had nothing to do with the tipping fee increase.

"It wasn't us that did this. It was the state," she said.

Lynn Morgan, Wisconsin spokesperson for Waste Management, agreed that the increase wasn't fair, especially since money could potentially be taken from waste handling programs to cover the increased tax.

Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy organization, backed the bill, saying it will keep bordering states from treating Wisconsin as the Midwest's landfill.

According to Department of Natural Resource 2007 statistics, 1,915,104 tons of garbage from bordering states made it to Wisconsin landfills.

Eau Claire's Seven Mile Creek landfill, the site nearest to New Richmond, took in 148,232 tons of Minnesota garbage in 2007.

The extra costs haulers will incur because of the increased tipping fees will be passed along to the customers.

Stephens said that although their rates are still lower than big companies, prices have increased. Since the July 1 change, their smaller container size has increased about $1 so far, while the larger size increased about $1.80.

Passing added company costs on to customers is something Stephens said she tries to avoid.

"We don't give foolish increases," she said. "We've been very conservative over the years to not increase the bills. Sometimes I don't increase them when I should."

In fact, Stephens said their company ate the first month's price increase, just to be on the safe side.

"I'm a doubting Annie. I don't want to do anything (related to prices) until I know it's for certain," she said.

Customers were warned about the increase in a letter from Stephens Sanitation before the increase. The increased tax is added into the lump sum of the bill.

Waste Management customers will see about an 11 percent increase in their bill for collection and disposal, Morgan said.

Some worried that the increased tipping fee would only encourage haulers to take garbage across the border to another state when the proposal first came up. States can't legally ban or limit space in landfills because it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

That worry has turned into reality in the first two months of the tax hike as more haulers have left the state to dump their loads.

"We are seeing an increase in this," Morgan said. Wisconsin haulers have travelled across state lines in the past, largely to dispose of hazardous waste. This state doesn't have a disposal or treatment facility for such waste.

Figures from landfills across the state are reported to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on a quarterly basis, said Cynthia Moore of the WDNR. It won't be until the end of September that firm statistics since the tipping fee increase are available.

Taking garbage out of state may save the haulers a little money in tipping costs, but there are also added expenses like wear and tear to trucks and extra fuel, Moore cautioned.

Those extra costs, along with added wear to roads and increased demand for fuel, could also impact customers.

"It's counterproductive on a number of levels," Morgan said.

Stephens said their company won't be traveling across the border for lower tipping prices. Stephens Sanitation hauls roughly 300 tons of garbage per month from the City of New Richmond and surrounding areas.

There's no end in sight for the increased tipping fee, Morgan said. The only way the increase would be repealed is through action by lawmakers.