County Landfill Launches Pilot Punch Card System

Flathead County homeowners will be allowed to drop off three oversized trash loads per year

By Micah Drew
A dump truck deives along an access road at the Flathead County Landfill. The county is looking to expand the dump in the future and that could threaten the surrounding land. - Justin Franz/Flathead Beacon

The county solid waste board has come up with a new strategy for tracking visits to the landfill aimed at saving Flathead County residents money while providing better data to the solid waste department.

Included with the tax assessments sent out to each homeowner in Flathead County this year is an oversized load punch card. The cards allow homeowners to make three trips to the dump each year, starting in January, without paying the onsite fee, instead utilizing the existing annual assessment for solid waste.

“The assessment everyone has on their taxes is to deal with the garbage you produce out of your house,” David Prunty, the county public works director, said. “Think of what goes in the Hefty bag — kitchen waste, bathroom waste, that kind of material.”

In years past, residents would come to the landfill with a pickup truck or a trailer full of debris — a torn down shed, left over materials from a remodel, landscaping refuse — and expect to be able to drop off a load or two a year for free, according to Prunty. The landfill had no way of tracking the number of loads a resident brought each year or how much they had paid.

“The bottom line is there wasn’t a previous system in place,” Prunty said. “This is a quantitative way of tracking waste we haven’t had in the past.”

Prunty noted that the decision to offer three free loads a year was more or less random, but is low enough that the he doesn’t anticipate the landfill getting overwhelmed.

The annual county assessment level for solid waste remains at $80.73, and covers curbside “Hefty bag waste” as well as three oversized load landfill deposits a year. An oversized load is defined as the amount of waste that can fit in a one-ton pickup or single-axle trailer. Additional visits beyond the three annual punches will be charged at $31.05 per ton.

The punch cards are a two-year pilot program, allowing three visits in 2021 and three in 2022, and property owners will be required to keep track of their cards — the county will not replace lost or damaged cards. A new landfill entryway and updated software will aid in tracking visits to the landfill, and after the pilot program ends, the system will be reevaluated and tweaked if necessary.

In the last fiscal year, the landfill received just over 143,000 tons of residential and business materials. The new tracking system will allow the department to break down where trash comes from in the future.

Prunty noted that he is glad the pilot program will last for two years, because the solid waste department spent 10 days hand stuffing the punch cards into the tax bills.

“We made a guess that most people get their tax bill, open it up and analyze it right away,” Prunty said. “Hopefully people will look at it, say ‘what’s this’ and start using their punches.”

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