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Way Around Added Sales Tax?

Chamber of Commerce wants city to reconsider trash deal

Privatization of garbage service in the city of White Salmon is an issue that doesn't appear to be going away.

Last week, the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce entered the fray with a resolution requesting that the city negotiate a deal for garbage collection with Bingen Garbage Service.

The resolution, by the Chamber's Board of Directors, was approved unanimously. It was subsequently submitted to Mayor Roger Holen and all five members of the White Salmon City Council.

In a June 23 letter signed by Carolyn Deach, president of the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the chamber explained its reasoning as follows:

"After due consideration and factual analysis, the Mt. Adams Chamber recommends that good faith efforts to negotiate a franchise agreement with Bingen Garbage Service be entered into by the city of White Salmon," the resolution read. "The Chamber believes that this is the best fiscal course for the city and will not degrade or impair service for its citizens. In the current economic climate, a successful negotiation would provide superior refuse service, net income for the city, prevent a rate increase to [customers], and allow the city to direct its limited resources to other important issues."

Deach pointed out that the chamber members reviewed letters to the editor from The Enterprise, testimony of those at the council meetings, and an analysis provided by Bingen Garbage Service.

"The board members of the Mt. Adams Chamber believe that White Salmon citizens will be best served by the city of White Salmon pursuing good faith negotiations toward a franchise agreement for services to be provided by Bingen Garbage Service," Deach explained. "Objections raised in the letters to the editor section of The Enterprise were deemed to be not based in fact, to be unreasonable objections, or to be resolvable by negotiation."

On May 7, the City Council voted 3-2 to halt negotiations with BGS on privatization.

Penny Morris, one of three members of the City Council who has opposed privatization of White Salmon's garbage services, said the chamber's move didn't change her mind.

"My voice right now is with those who are against it," Morris said. "That's where I'm sticking. I haven't heard from anyone who is for this. Probably 15 citizens have called me and said they were opposed to it, and the main reason is they don't want the city to give up control over the service."

Morris added that she wondered why the Chamber of Commerce had taken a stand on the issue, and suggested that the chamber might be "overstepping its boundaries."

"It sounds a little funny to me, why this chamber would be making these resolutions," she said. "I don't understand why they don't come to the council meetings."

Robin Hale, owner of Bridge RV Park in White Salmon and a chamber board member, said he suggested that the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce look at the issue.

"I basically gave them the idea to get Jim Herman there to get his side of it," Hale explained.

Hale pointed out that he was hopeful the council could eliminate the recently increased city sales tax if the city could save enough in its budget through privatizing the garbage service. In December 2002, the City Council voted to tack on an additional one-half of one percent sales tax onto retail sales within the city limits in order to raise revenue for city services. The extra sales tax came with a provision that it would be in effect for one year only.

"The extra sales tax issue is going to be brought up again this late summer or early fall. I feel the city will still be in a shortfall," Hale said. "Hopefully, with the saving of $80,000 [by going to privatization], that would be a reason to take the sales tax off. If they're looking for savings, I can't think of a better way."

Hale said the improved service was also attractive to him from a business standpoint.

"I like the idea of having holiday garbage service for my business, that's my own selfish reason," Hale explained. "If the holiday is Monday, my dumpsters often overflow from the weekend, and if they overflow too much, the city charges me extra because of the day they take off. It adds up pretty good."

Mayor Holen said he didn't know whether the chamber's interest in the issue would make a difference for the City Council.

"If the City Council wants to seriously deal with it, they can, but I'm not going to send city staff or anyone else scurrying around to breathe life into something they [the council members] killed," Holen said. "But apparently it's not a dead issue as far as the community is concerned."

Hale said he didn't understand the philosophical objection to privatization of a city service.

"If they can save that kind of money and have better service -- privatize it," he said.

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