The bad new is, rates for garbage pickup for customers served by the city of White Salmon are likely to be going up soon.
The good news is two-fold, however: The rates for the service have not been boosted since 1999, and even with the proposed $5 per month increase, the bill from White Salmon will still be relatively low.
White Salmon Mayor David Poucher explained the predicament the city finds itself in.
"We do not have sufficient revenues," said Poucher. "In 2007, we had $132,450 in revenues [from garbage service billings], but $156,000 in costs."
On Oct. 15, the White Salmon City Council held a public hearing to discuss services and possible rate increases, but only about 10 citizens showed up.
Those who were present at the meeting generally supported raising the rates.
Currently, the city charges a base rate of $9 per month to pick up one can a week. An increase to $14 a month for the base rate is being proposed, although that figure is still subject to change.
Jaci Dietsch, a local citizen who serves as a member of the White Salmon Budget Committee, said she thinks an increase is needed.
"We are definitely going to increase rates for garbage services. We can't afford not to. But why $14 -- why not $15 like it is in Bingen?" Dietsch asked.
Poucher made clear the city would not raise its rates just to raise them.
"We need to figure what it costs to do garbage service and to replace our trucks and allow for common maintenance," Poucher said. "Then that's the fee you'll have. It will be based on facts and what it is actually costing us."
Public Works Director Mike Wellman said recycling services for all city residents are provided via the county, either through curbside pickup or having recycling facilities available at Bingen Point and BZ Corner.
"We're trying to promote reducing the amount of waste we have to haul to the landfill," Wellman added.
At the council meeting, the city handed out a questionnaire asking those present to respond to several questions, including: Should customers getting city water also be required to pay for basic garbage service? Should this service be discounted if no garbage pickup is requested? Should there be an option for lower volume or frequency of pickup with an associated reduction in costs?
"The city is not collecting sufficient revenues to operate the garbage fund," read an excerpt from the questionnaire. "Typically in recent years, this shortfall has been addressed by borrowing money from reserves and not placing any new money into reserves. This will leave the fund without adequate money to buy new equipment (trucks, dumpsters, cans, etc.) in the future. For 2008 year end, projected revenues are $132,450, while projected costs are $156,000. Adding $10,000 for reserves and $30,000 would indicate that revenues should be increased by about $60,000-$70,000 per year. The city has estimated that a general increase of $5 per month (from $9 to $14 for a single can weekly plus making all in-city water customers use the basic garbage service would essentially raise the required funds."
In a written statement to the city, former Public Works Department superintendent, Russell Dallas, said the city needed to raise its rates.
"The city has operated the garbage service for at least 45 years and should in my opinion continue the operation in future years," Dallas wrote. "The garbage service is a money maker for the city. It pays its own way. The city needs to increase rates every two years or so, not go 10-plus years before increasing the rates. The reserve fund should be used for the garbage department only."
Last Friday, Mayor Poucher said the city was not hearing much opposition to a proposed boost in the city's garbage rates.
"The vast majority of what we are getting are saying, `Geez, we've got a bargain here,'" Poucher said. "Most everybody puts in, `raise the prices.'"
However, City Council member Richard Marx said he did not believe there was any serious shortfall with the garbage service, and said he was not inclined to support a rate increase.
"It just seemed to come out of nowhere," Marx said. "The garbage department is a money maker, and if the administration would keep its fingers out of it, it would make money. It's more politics. There's nothing wrong with the garbage department. It's just a big concoction to raise rates. It has been completely blown out of proportion."
Marx added that he believed the city engineer (Wellman) had more important things to do than try to figure out how to fund the city's garbage service.
"Why is the city engineer the one who has been assigned the task of analyzing the garbage department? The city engineer can't figure it out," questioned Marx.
Poucher said the fact that the city has waited nearly a decade to consider increasing its rates for city services is part of the problem.
"It's unfortunate to let it go for so long," Poucher said. "We should be doing this every year or two. We've just been lax on doing day to day stuff of running the city."
Poucher believes an increase is necessary to meet inflated costs.
"If you had worked for somebody for 10 years and were trying to live on that -- nobody would accept that," he pointed out.
The city should have new rates in place for next year, Poucher believes.
"We definitely hope to have this in place going in to 2009," Poucher said. "We want the new ordinance written by late November or December."
The city is continuing to accept comments about possible changes to garbage rates and services.
"We are more than happy to receive comments at White Salmon City Hall. We're still drafting the proposal, and we're still taking comments."
City Hall can be reached at 493-1133.