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Wutc Staff Recommends Lower Garbage Rate Increase

Solid waste regulatory staff for the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) is recommending a temporary 5.8 percent rate increase in residential rates for Klickitat County’s primary waste collection company.

The staff’s recommendation and other supporting documentation regarding Goldendale-based Tri-County Disposal’s rate proposal will be presented to the three-member WUTC today during a scheduled public meeting in Olympia. The recommended residential rate is $12.69 a month instead of the $14.40 Tri-County first proposed.

Tri-County Disposal filed a rate proposal with the WUTC on Jan. 15 that called for a 19.1 percent increase that would have generated about $229,000 in additional annual revenue for the hauler to offset increased costs in labor, fuel, maintenance, health care, pensions, and other related operating expenses. According to WUTC documents, the proposed increase was prompted by Tri-County taking over the City of White Salmon service area, which contains 905 residential and commercial customers, on March 1. Tri-County’s last rate increase became effective Dec. 1, 2011.

The 5.8 percent increase recommended by WUTC staff would provide about $82,000 in additional annual revenue to support Tri-County Disposal’s operations, which cover most of Klickitat County and parts of Skamania and Yak-ima counties. If adopted by the commission, the rates will be temporary and subject to refund.

Part of Tri-County’s rate request was based on its acquisition of garbage carts and two trucks from White Salmon’s soon-to-be defunct Refuse Department. WUTC staff, however, advised the company on Feb. 13 that the city’s assets would be excluded from the rate case without a signed purchase or lease agreement with the city.

“The company stated that the purchase of this equipment would not be completed prior to beginning collection service in the City of White Salmon,” WUTC analysts wrote in their recommendation for the Feb. 27 commission meeting. Tri-County subsequently provided a signed lease agreement on Feb. 21 for use of the city’s assets.

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, Tri-County submitted a revised filing reflecting WUTC staff’s recommended rates. The rate increase, if adopted, will be temporary and subject to refund. WUTC documents state Tri-County plans to purchase the city’s garbage trucks and multiple carts through auction sometime after March 1. “Staff expects the company to provide support for the expenses related to the purchase of assets to commission staff forthwith, so that permanent rates may be established.”

In the lead-up to the Feb. 27 meeting, WUTC staff received nine customer comments regarding Tri-County’s original rate proposal. Seven customers stated that the amount of the proposed increase was excessive. Commenters included senior citizens living on fixed incomes.

“The customers were advised that state law requires rates to be fair, just, reasonable, and sufficient to allow the company to recover reasonable operating expenses, and the opportunity for the company to earn a reasonable return on investment.”

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