The state Utilities and Transportation Commission on Oct. 27 suspended proposed garbage rate increases for approximately 3,200 residential customers in Klickitat County that would have taken effect Nov. 1 had the UTC not acted.
In September, Seattle-based Rabanco Ltd., doing business in Klickitat County as Allied Waste and Tri-County Disposal, applied for changes in the rates it charges residential customers for curbside trash pick-up and recycling service. The increases proposed range from 12.6 percent to 13.3 percent. According to a flier dated Oct. 1 and mailed to customers by Tri-County and Allied to announce their rate proposals, "Most customers will experience an increase of 12.6 percent."
The cost of weekly service for one can would have increased from $10.65 a month to $11.99 (or an extra $16.08 per year), and from $14.14 to $15.92 for two-can weekly service (an additional $21.36 a year). The one-can monthly rate would have gone from $5 to $5.63. Rabanco's last general rate increase request took effect on Jan. 1, 2008.
The UTC suspended Rabanco's rate proposals until its staff can audit the Goldendale-based garbage haulers' financial records and determine if the increases can be justified.
The UTC complaint and order suspending Rabanco's tariff revisions stated in its conclusion, "Commission staff has not completed its review of the company's supporting financial documents, books and records. The company has not demonstrated that the proposed rates are fair, just, reasonable, or sufficient."
Rabanco spokesman Alex Brenner said the UTC was statutorily obligated to take the action it did on Oct. 27 to stop the rate increases from becoming effective.
"Under Washington law, rate filings where the commission cannot complete its review with a 45-day period must be subject to suspension and complaint in order to avoid automatic implementation, which would have occurred for us on Nov. 1, 2011," Brenner said.
UTC spokesman John Cupp said "the company bears the burden of proving that the proposed rates are fair, just, reasonable and sufficient. Now that the filing is suspended, staff will continue to work with the company on rates that meet those requirements."
Cupp added that Rabanco's filing could go in a number of directions going forward. The UTC could schedule it for a future open meeting, or the issue could become "formal."
"A formal case would go before a UTC administrative law judge, and could take close to a year," he noted.
UTC staff summarized the public comments the commission received about Rabanco's rate proposals. The customers "said they believe the company should better manage its costs to avoid the need for higher rates. They also believe the amount of the increase is too drastic."
Kathy and Bill Bartsch of White Salmon wrote to the UTC by e-mail in time for the Oct. 27 hearing. They said, "Allied Waste Services proposes to increase rates of over 12 percent to residents of Klickitat County, which we believe is excessive and untimely. Further, the company is not offering any new options for customers such as a bi-monthly pick up rate or incentives to reduce waste."
Customer Stephen G. Finn noted on his e-mail comment form, "There is no justification in these difficult economic times for AWS of Klickitat County to seek a rate increase of 12.6 percent. As a retired person, I saw no increase in my Social Security benefits in the last four years. AWS services in Klickitat County are marginal at best. It is unfair to be held hostage by AWS with no other alternative to handle our waste. This is a monopoly and the public interests should be protected."
Tom McNallan of White Salmon submitted comments through the UTC Web site. He suggested the hike is 3 percent higher than the Consumer Price Index for the last years, and added, "This is a poor county with 9 percent unemployment and low wages, plus Allied uses our county for a regional dump. For those reasons I oppose the 12.6 percent increase."
In its Sept. 16 filing with the UTC, Rabanco requested "tariff revisions [that] would generate approximately $123,500 (11.7 percent) in additional annual revenue. The proposed increases are prompted by increases in labor, healthcare, pension, maintenance and fuel costs."
White Salmon and Bingen are served by other garbage haulers; their customers are not subject to Rabanco's rate increase proposals.