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City delays trash-rate increase

"Oak Harbor City Council voted 5-2 to table a decision to raise trash pick-up rates for city households and businesses.Council member Paul Brewer asked that the issue be tabled at the July 3 council meeting. The council's action gives the public works and legal departments time to rewrite the ordinance to clarify some points and cover all bases.But Council Member John LaFond, one of the two who voted against the motion, said Tuesday that he cannot understand what the five council members hoped to achieve by delaying approval of the rate increase.What do they really expect to accomplish? LaFond asked, questioning the delay.The city solid waste department is low on funding and needs the rate increase to update equipment, to build up the reserve fund to cover post-closure and potential litigation costs of the city landfill that is now closed and to build up the beginning fund balance that should be at 5 percent, but is now at only 1.6 percent.We're not out of money, but we're depleted, LaFond said.Council member Richard Davis joined LaFond in voting against delaying the rate increase.Brewer motioned to delay the vote on the rate increase because the ordinance placed before the council on July 3 was missing information, Brewer said at the meeting. It addressed the monthly rates for two containers, but the city has four trash container sizes available. This ordinance is not ready, Brewer said, adding the ordinance needs to be written correctly before it should be considered by the city council.LaFond, however, said the issue before the council on July 3 was to approve the rate increase only, and that the ordinance could have been rewritten later.City Finance Director Doug Merriman and City Attorney Phil Bleyhl told the council it would have been acceptable to vote on the increase on July 3, while rewriting the entire solid waste ordinance later.If the city council had approved the 6.9 percent rate increase - which would mean an increase from $32.50 to $34.75 bimonthly for a household using a single 21- to 32-gallon can - it would have become effective July 20. This date was used in calculating the solid waste department's budget goals, and the delay will cause the need to recalculate the numbers, Merriman told the council before the vote. Merriman said Tuesday that the recalculation will require less money to be put into the reserve fund this year.Prior to the July 3 meeting, the council held a workshop on the issue of raising the solid waste rates, with a presentation by Merriman and a question-and-answer period. The city services 4,237 accounts, collects 7,400 tons of solid waste annually and recycles about 10 percent of the waste. Merriman's presentation outlined the city's efficiency factors - demand is up 38 percent while staffing has been reduced to 1996 levels.At the workshop, Brewer questioned the efficiency.We need to look at the efficiencies first before we start charging more to the customers ... I haven't seen anything yet on recycling ... We talk about increasing rates and we need to talk more about efficiencies first ... It's easy to raise rates, Brewer said.Mayor Patty Cohen addressed Brewer's concerns.We know (recycling is) a program we need to improve on, Cohen said. Once we are able to put together an effective recycling program ... it will impact solid waste.LaFond agrees the city and the city council should explore the contracting-out of recycling and yard waste. The city is putting together a request for proposals for that purpose, he said. In the meantime, LaFond said he supports a rate increase if that's necessary to balance expenses, but he would like to see the ongoing considerations of recycling explored to see if it could positively effect the solid waste budget in the future.Brewer is also the solid waste director for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, where he has achieved a 62 percent recycling rate out of the total waste stream, resulting in a cost savings of $1.2 million last year. Kathy Rosen, city superintendent of public works, said she has already talked with Brewer regarding his program, and some of her staff has toured the facility at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.LaFond, however, doesn't think that the naval air station's system would work for the city, citing that the base has a labor source - the military - that the city would not have.My suspicion is that it wouldn't work, LaFond said. It's comparing apples to oranges.City staff will submit the rewritten ordinance with a complete rate table to the city council at its next meeting on August 7, Merriman said. "

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