To fashion a workable budget last year, the city of White Salmon needed to make cuts in several areas. By all indications, the city's budget will be facing increasing pressure in 2004, and citizens might see reductions in services or even cuts in city staff.
So it's difficult to understand why, on May 7, a majority of the members of the White Salmon City Council voted to break off negotiations that could lead to privatization of the city's garbage service. The plan could being significant fiscal benefits to the city.
Several of the council members said they needed more information before they could endorse a proposal to transfer the city's trash collection operation to Bingen Garbage Service, a privately-owned business based in White Salmon. Fair enough.
But before the council's 3-2 vote to halt negotiations with BGS, Public Works Director Wil Keyser explained that all the city was asking for was authority to negotiate details of an agreement. Only after the city had all the facts would the council be asked to ratify or reject the plan.
Instead, the City Council's vote effectively ended further discussions between the city and BGS, meaning details could not be ironed out.
That's a shortsighted approach by the council. If the city and its ratepayers could gain, why not explore it?
According to Bill Hearn, owner of Bingen Garbage Service, customers within the city limits of White Salmon who are now served by the city would actually pay less on their garbage bills if they were served by BGS.
Here are some anticipated benefits related to the BGS proposal to take over the city's garbage collection service:
BGS would pay the city a $12,000 per year franchise fee for the right to serve customers within the city limits. That budget windfall would go into the city's general fund. At the same time, the city would no longer have to budget for trash collection. Mayor Roger Holen estimates the total benefit to the city -- combining the franchise fee income as well as no longer having to set aside funds for refuse collection -- would be in the neighborhood of $80,000 a year.
A city customer with one can per week for pick up would pay $1.25 less per month for the same service through BGS. A customer with two cans per week would pay 75 cents less per month.
Although one of the city's Public Works Department employees would no longer be needed, BGS has agreed to hire that same employee, with wages and benefits expected to be similar to his current city employment package.
If the privatization plan does not go through, budget projections suggest that the city will have to increase its rates for garbage service by an estimated 26 percent to cover costs. The increase would cover health care costs, salaries, and set asides for eventual replacement of the garbage compressor truck and other equipment.
By going to privatization, it appears that the city of White Salmon would save money, garbage customers would save money, and BGS would gain stability by way of additional revenue. In short, everyone gains.
The White Salmon City Council should take another look at Hearn's proposal. Although there are some points to be worked out, simply putting a stop to negotiations was unhelpful and unwise. This concept deserves enthusiastic support from the council.