It's the first rate increase for garbage service in White Salmon since 1999, and it's a significant one.
On the evening of Nov. 19, the White Salmon City Council voted 3-1 to approve raising the charges for the city's garbage service customers.
Mike Wellman, director of the city's Public Works Department, said there was a huge gap between the costs for the garbage collection service, and the city's revenues.
"We need an additional $70,000-$80,000 to make us whole," Wellman reported. "We have a service that's hemorrhaging."
"We want the fund to be self-sufficient," White Salmon clerk-treasurer Lori Kreps told the council members before the vote.
Two members of the White Salmon Budget Committee who were in the audience that night urged the council members to hike the trash collection rates.
Shirley Cox, chair of the Budget Committee, said the rate issue is not something that should have caught council members by surprise.
"For the last four budget cycles, I've asked staff and council to approve an increase," Cox explained. "But the council decided it was politically incorrect to adjust the rates, and instead took it out of the reserves to shore up the fund. If we are going to provide this service, we don't have a choice. We have to adjust rates to cover the costs of service -- or you are subsidizing or gifting to private people. All we are asking is to cover our costs."
"We have to have these rates adjusted," added Budget Committee member Jaci Dietsch. "We have not raised them since 1999. Take into account where we are now with the budget. The sooner we get these revenues in, the better off we'll be. We really need to pass this. We need the rates to go into effect as soon as possible."
When the vote was called, the council approved the garbage rate increase 3-1. Council members Leana Johnson, Bob Landgren, and Mark Peppel voted to support the increase, with council member Richard Marx opposed.
The new rates -- which will take effect with the February 2009 billings -- will be as follows:
One can picked up per week will cost $15 per month;
One can every other week: $10 per month;
Charge for an extra can per week: $12 per month;
Charge to place a two- or three-cubic yard container: $25 initial charge and $25 per month rental;
Charge to dump a 2-cubic yard container: $20 per time; $80 a month for weekly service;
Charge to dump a 3-cubic yard container: $25 per time or $100 per month;
Yard debris pickup: $30 per cubic yard -- except each residential service may have two 30-gallon disposable bags with yard or garden debris picked up at each regular garbage pickup, at no extra cost;
Low-income elderly rate reduction: Seniors meeting criteria shall be granted a 20 percent reduction in the base rate for one can per week.
$4 of each collection charge will be allocated to the Garbage Reserve Fund, with $3 to go to vehicle replacement, and $1 for the operations and maintenance fund.
Marx said he didn't think ratepayers should have to accept an increase.
"It's like we're seeing all across the country," Marx said. "No one is held accountable. and the buck is passed by raising the rates to consumers. Can you say `bailout'? This is a bailout."
Marx pointed out that the city has not been following its own ordinance regarding garbage rates, because a stipulation that $4 from every bill should go to the reserve fund specifically to replace equipment was not followed. Some of the money went to other uses, including funding for operations and maintenance costs.
"The ordinance was not followed," Marx said. "They came to the conclusion that $20,000-$40,000 has been robbed from the garbage department to pay for labor and operations and maintenance costs. They admitted the garbage account was robbed, but no one was held accountable."
Marx also complained about the way the garbage rate increase was handled.
"I was highly disappointed," Marx said. "The ordinance was done by Cox and Dietsch. Changes were made, and the council did not even comment on it. Yet when I raised my hand to speak, Dietsch told me not to interrupt her. They ran the show. I was left with no alternative but to vote `no' because there are no checks and balances. It's just like it was five years ago."
White Salmon Mayor David Poucher said the city needed to adjust its trash collection billings to reflect the costs of providing the service.
"We had not increased the garbage rates since 1999. It's reasonable to make these changes," Poucher said. "Unfortunately, we're in a downturn, but we don't want to be depleting our reserves. Our rates are still the same or lower than in adjoining areas."