County budget session reviews health costs, ‘gasification’ plant

A troubled waste-to-energy project for Monroe County’s yard waste and concern over the health-insurance budget for county staff are among major issues reaching the Monroe County Commission at today’s first budget briefing for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

“We’re going through the budget now and we’ll be crunching the numbers into the evening,” County Administrator Roman Gastesi said Tuesday.

No final decisions on the budget will be made for several months, Gastesi said. “We don’t have the budget requests from our [elected] constitutional officers and we don’t have the property values yet,” Gastesi said. “This is more of an overview.”

The current budget for unincorporated Monroe County allocates $456.9 million for fiscal year 2017 that expires Oct. 1.

Monroe County has a self-finance health insurance program for about 2,400 county and elected-office employees. Currently, the system is facing a $3.3 million shortfall due to rising health costs.

Also during today’s session, commissioners will be asked to provide direction on a “gasification” plan to convert county yard waste into a fuel used by power plants.

Energy 3 LLC holds a contract to haul yard waste to a mainland facility, currently used for mulch. The firm’s efforts to build a gasification plant have run into technical difficulties. In early April, Monroe County waste-management and legal staff sent letters to Energy 3 declaring a “notice of default” on aspects of the contract.

The primary concerns center on the delayed progress to build a gasification facility and the news that the Energy 3 plans to switch from the Chinook Sciences-Rodecs process to a similar technology.

In February, commissioners rejected a request to amend the contract to delete specific references to the specific Rodecs technology, which had been vetted by county staff.

“This fundamentally changes what we approved,” Commissioner Danny Kolhage said then. “I have a huge problem with that.”

On a 3-2 vote, commissioners rejected the change of technology. Commissioners Sylvia Murphy and Heather Carruthers, on the losing side, said Energy 3 is collecting yard waste now at a lower rate than previously paid.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206