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Waste vote under review

Whether Wasco County or the North Central Public Health District will oversee the Tri-County Household Hazardous Waste and Recycling Program is still undecided despite a unanimous vote last October of the Tri-County Hazardous Waste and Recycling steering committee to have Wasco County serve as its lead agency.

The delay is to allow polling of all its nine member governments to ensure that the October vote was indeed the direction those nine area governments wish to pursue. At its Wednesday, March 12 meeting, the committee agreed to give itself 60 days to craft a presentation and take it to the nine governments. The steering committee decided to do the polling to address concerns of the public health district and its director, Teri Thalhofer, who said the steering committee made an “11th hour” reversal of its original plans, unanimously confirmed in December 2012, to have the health district serve as lead agency.

Mike Smith, chair of the public health district, said the district did not want the hazardous waste program to go through the expense of rewriting intergovernmental agreements without being assured that all nine entities were on board with the steering committee’s decision.

Last summer, the public health district, which directly oversees the hazardous waste program, finished the lengthy process of becoming its own legal entity and splitting away from being a department of Wasco County.

Wasco County was the lead agency of the hazardous waste program for years, with direct oversight being handled by the public health district.

This issue became a sticking point at the steering committee meeting, with several steering committee members arguing it meant Wasco County was lead agency all along, and Smith and Thalhofer arguing that public health was effectively the lead agency.

Smith said it was understood that when the health district split off from the county that the hazardous waste program would come with it.

All the hazardous waste program employees are public health employees. Further, he said, Wasco County deeded ownership of the two hazardous waste recycling centers, in The Dalles and Hood River, to the public health district.

As for running the matter by the nine member entities, at least one official wanted to see the lead agency issue come before his council.

“This has not come up in public discussion at the council,” Dan Spatz, The Dalles city councilor, told the steering committee March 12.

Karen Skiles, who represents The Dalles on the steering committee, said she had discussed the matter with the city’s public works director and the city manager. She said it was up to them what they chose to share with the council.

Sherman County might not support having Wasco County as lead agency. Smith, the public health board chair, is also a Sherman County commissioner, and he said he does not want Wasco County to be lead agency.

Sandy Macnab, a founding member of the steering committee, said the issue of which entity should be lead agency came up for reconsideration last year when two changes happened: Glenn Pierce, who oversaw the program, retired from the health district; and Wasco County Commissioner Steve Kramer started representing Wasco County on the steering committee.

Pierce had been heavily involved in the program since early on and his leaving was “a big deal,” Macnab said. Pierce “had a track record. He had a good personality to work with. He was the go-between between us and his supervisors.”

Macnab said Kramer suggested taking another look at who the lead agency should be.

The steering committee decided last summer to form a subcommittee to consider who should be the lead agency. Proposals were submitted by Wasco County and public health, and the steering committee unanimously voted last October to go with — or remain with — Wasco County. Its proposal was $10,000 cheaper.

Macnab said the steering committee realized that the public health district is not actually a member of the steering committee — its former host agency, Wasco County, is. The legalities of making a non-member of the committee the lead agency of the hazardous waste program “just seemed kind of nuts,” Macnab said. They decided “we really can’t” do that, he said.

He said, “I think there’s not a clear understanding of who the lead agency is and what the lead agency’s responsibilities are and what certain roles have been since the 2001 gathering of the nine entities” that became the Tri-County program.

Due to the way agreements were worded, the steering committee had to ask public health to allow the change in lead agency. The public health board in February voted against allowing it, at least for the time being, but with an understanding that if that was the will of the steering committee, it would proceed.

Smith told the steering committee that the main concern with public health losing the hazardous waste program was a state law that says employees whose programs are transferred to another public entity must be “held harmless” in the transfer.

In other words, their pay could not be cut, or their jobs lost, only to have a new employee doing the same job in a new program.

The hazardous waste program has one full-time employee and four other health district employees who do some administrative work for it. While the full-time employee would just be transferred — the program would be housed in the Wasco County planning department — it was the other four with part-time hours in the hazardous waste program who would be affected.

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