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Garbage rate hike sparks citizen complaint

Numerous complaints from customers over the recent hike in trash collection rates has led Hood River Garbage Service to issue a written apology.

"I think people have reason to be angry about it because we didn't explain what we wanted to do," said David Skakel, county recycling coordinator.

He said the recent 48 percent increase is the first in 13 years and necessary to offset operating costs. In addition, Skakel said the new prices allow the county to expand its recycling program, with three bins now being delivered to households in rural areas.

However, Skakel said officials didn't take enough steps to educate residents about the $500,000 that has been invested into the local service within the past several months for equipment upgrades and the purchase of 9,000 recycling bins. He also said, even more importantly, many citizens aren't aware that Hood River is the sole county in the state that hasn't met new state recycling guidelines. Currently, the local area is lagging about seven points behind the 25 percent mandate.

"Under the new program the more you recycle the less you pay," said Skakel.

But some mid-valley and upper-valley residents contend the new rates actually pencil out much higher in many cases and the added inconvenience outweighs the benefits. For example, although the basic rate increase for one can collected weekly from the roadside has risen from $8.40 to $12.50 per month, they are forced to pay an additional $2.25 per extra 25 feet to have home service if they can't drag heavy containers down a long driveway.

Skakel said Hood River Garbage currently services one home every 54 seconds. He said it costs about $1.42 per minute to service a customer. So, if it takes four minutes to travel up a driveway and empty containers, the collection cost increases to $5.58 per stop.

"Most communities do not even have an option for backyard service because of the added costs and the difficulty to back up garbage trucks in long, narrow driveways," said Skakel.

Art Santavicca, who has a 320-foot steep driveway to his home in Odell, said he cannot take advantage of the recycling pickup every other week because he can't heft the bulky containers down to the roadside. In addition, he said the bins don't have a lid so they can't be left outside during inclement weather.

He said suggestions by the garbage company to ask neighbors for help or to hire youth to perform that chore are not reasonable since it will cost even more money or create an inconvenience for others.

Skakel said low-income seniors and the disabled can have their garbage collected either from the road or at their home for only $6.80 per month. In addition he said the local garbage service has hired extra staffers temporarily to answer questions. He said employees will also make site visits to work out an alternate collection plan when an irrigation ditch or other obstacle prevents a container from being left by the road.

However, Santavicca said he has decided to self-haul his trash and recyclable items to the transfer station on Guignard Road. He said the final straw was when he did the math and figured the cost for the occasional second can of trash was really a 650 percent increase -- from $1.35 per month to $10 -- one which could lead to garbage fees of over $50 per month when visitors arrived for an extended stay or he tackled a short-term home improvement project.

Santavicca said it will only cost him $10 to haul six 32-gallon cans of trash to the transfer station each month.

"To save myself money I'd have to call them (Hood River Garbage) every time I had company and change my service because I may not need two cans for the other 48 weeks of the year," said Santavicca. "My advice is that they drop that $10 charge for the second can and put wheels or rope on the recycle bins to make it easier to get them to the road."

Skakel said the purpose behind eliminating the discount for the second can was to encourage recycling. He said to accommodate self-haulers, a new depot has been placed at the Mt. Hood Towne Hall and another collection site will soon be set up in Odell. These bins include four compartments that can be used for newspaper, mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, and aluminum, tin, plastic and glassware items.

For more information call Hood River Garbage Service at 386-2272.

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