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Garbage rate increase set for January

Hood River County Commissioners unanimously approved a garbage rate increase for county residents after a public hearing that was held during the commission’s regular meeting Monday night.

The commission’s vote allows Hood River Garbage to increase its rates on waste disposal services by an average of 1.6 percent, effective next month. The company’s most popular services — 32-gallon can curbside pickups and 1.5-yard commercial dumpsters — will also increase by 1.6 percent. Customers with a typical 32-gallon garbage can weekly curbside service will see their rates increase from $17.97 to $18.27 inside the Hood River Urban Growth Boundary and from $17.30 to $17.59 outside the UGB. Weekly pickups of 1.5-yard commercial containers will increase from $113 to $114.77.

In a letter to county commissioners, Erwin Swetnam, district manager for Hood River Garbage, said the increase was needed due to the rising costs of doing business. The company used the most recent statistics available from the Consumer Price Index for the Portland/Salem region to set its rates, which indicated an increase of 1.9 percent in the price of goods and services over the past year.

One of Hood River Garbage’s costs that continues to rise is the expense of providing a free yard debris day every Wednesday to city ratepayers. The program is required by the Oregon State Department of Environmental Quality and has been in place for the past 10 years, according to Jim Winterbottom, site manager for the Hood River Garbage facility on Guignard Road. He reported back in June at a county commission meeting that it was becoming evident than an increasing number of county ratepayers and non-ratepayers were taking advantage of the service due to the company’s lax enforcement policies. The influx of yard debris — some of which appears to be from agricultural operations outside of the city — costs Hood River Garbage approximately $50,000 a year to dispose of, according to Swetnam, who said his company was on pace to dispose of 1,500 tons of yard waste this year.

“This material is still coming in and we don’t have the manpower to maintain the facility or the dollars for the increased trucking,” he said.

Winterbottom said he and Swetnam were considering a number of options for recovering some of the loss, including charging county ratepayers 50 cents a month for using the free yard debris service.

Ron Rivers was supportive of charging county customers for using the city service.

“You have to do something, you guys,” he said. “We’re not against it.”

During the public comment period, local resident Bonnie New suggested a new rate structure that would charge more for people who disposed of more garbage. She said the current fee schedule of Hood River Garbage “incentivized” customers to throw out more.

Peter Frothingham, who serves on the Hood River County Planning Commission but spoke as a private citizen at the hearing, felt that Hood River Garbage had raised rates enough and noted that his garbage service had “gone up 100 percent since this company took over.” He also found fault with Hood River Garbage using the Portland/Salem CPI to set rates, suggesting Lincoln City’s CPI would be more appropriate for the Hood River area.

Commissioner Les Perkins explained that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t calculate a CPI for Lincoln City and that the next closest CPIs were in San Francisco, Calif., or Seattle, Wash. Perkins also advised Swetnam and Winterbottom to look into a new rate structure that would incentivize recycling as opposed to garbage, although Winterbottom noted the county’s 42-percent recycling rate was above the state average.

The county will have an opportunity to reevaluate its franchise agreement with Hood River Garbage in July 2014 when the current agreement expires.

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