Garbage rate increase moves forward

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council last week held the first two readings of an ordinance authorizing an 8 percent increase in city trash service rates to help cover the increasing cost of recycling.

The council had delayed reading the ordinance for the first time during its regular meeting on Aug. 14. Meanwhile, based on a consensus expressed by councilors in July, Sweet Home Sanitation implemented the rate increase beginning with August bills.

Outside of automatic annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index, the rates are set by ordinance.

An ordinance must be read three times at a City Council meeting before the City Council can vote to adopt it. The first time, an ordinance is read in its entirety. The council can read the ordinance a second time by title only upon approval of the council the same night. The council did that during its regular meeting on Aug. 28.

They must hold the third reading by title only at a second meeting.

This ordinance includes an expediency clause, which allows it to take effect immediately upon passage. The third reading will be scheduled for the council’s regular meeting on Sept. 11. The council may act on the ordinance at that time.

The council balked at the first reading at the earlier meeting after raising concerns about increasing the rate, and councilors asked for additional information at that time.

Councilor Lisa Gourley had asked why an increase based on recycling impacted other seemingly unrelated fees, like an “access fee” and a yard debris fee.

The recycling costs are not imposed across the entire fee schedule said Brian White, district manager for Waste Connections, which owns Sweet Home Sanitation. It isn’t being applied to its rolloff services, which are large containers hauled to the landfill after they are filled. It also doesn’t apply to the transfer station.

White told the council that general garbage service subsidizes the company’s other two services – recycling and yard debris.

The rate increase is based on a $156,000 shortfall in revenue experienced by Sweet Home Sanitation after its costs rose following China’s refusal to accept recycling earlier this year.

The rate increase is spread across the recycling and yard debris services. If it weren’t applied across those fees, the garbage rate would increase by 8.1 or 8.2 percent, White said.

Gourley said that residents who live outside the city limits had told her that employees told them not to recycle anything – to just throw their recycling in the trash. She asked White if Sweet Home Sanitation was going to continue recycling services in those areas. Linn County Commissioners approved an 8 percent rate increase on July 3 for rural areas of Sweet Home.

Linn County has told Sweet Home Sanitation to continue recycling in county areas, White said. In this area, Brownsville and Halsey have chosen to landfill their recycling.

“Our recycling program remains unchanged,” White said. “I’ll ask that question tomorrow. I don’t have an answer for you.”

It could be some confusion based on Brownsville’s and Halsey’s decisions to landfill their recycling or an employee in need of some training, White said, but he would find out.

The increase in rates is tied directly to China’s refusal of recycling materials.

According to Sweet Home Sanitation officials, the company has gone from receiving payment for recycling to paying to get rid of it.

Sweet Home Sanitation Site Manager Scott Gagner said in a letter to city officials in May that Pioneer Recycling paid Sweet Home Sanitation $30 per ton for mixed recycling in June 2017. China imposed an effective ban on recycling on Jan. 1, and as of May, Pioneer was charging Sweet Home Sanitation $84 per ton for the same material it was buying a year earlier.

Factoring in transportation and handling costs, the cost per ton rose from an average of $26.04 in 2017 to $118.47, Gagner said, an increase of 355 percent.

The rate for 90-gallon carts increased from $28.85 per month to $30.05 under the annual CPI-based automatic increase July 1 and to $32.35 per month beginning Aug. 1 based on the recycling increase, which is slightly less than 8 percent.

The rate for 20-gallon service increased from $11.60 to $12.10 per month on July 1. With the recycling increase, the rate went from $12.10 to $13 per month on Aug. 1.

Recycling only and yard debris only increased from $5.25 to $5.45 on July 1 and to $5.90 on Aug. 1.

Rates for commercial services and larger containers increased similarly.

Present at the council meeting and voting to hold the first two readings of the proposed ordinance were Bob Briana, Susan Coleman, Gourley, Mayor Greg Mahler, Dave Trask, James Goble and Diane Gerson.