Solid Waste Advisory Committee considers 'sustainable rate structure' for solid waste service today

At its meeting today, the San Juan County Solid Waste Advisory Committee expects to finalize its recommendations on a long-term sustainable rate structure for the county’s Solid Waste Utility.

Currently, the utility is funded primarily with revenue from “tipping fees” based on the weight of the garbage it receives. Tipping fees not only pay for the cost of handling garbage, but subsidize the cost of handling recyclable materials and are the principal source of funds for capital improvements, equipment and maintenance.

Capital expenses have increased dramatically over the past several years due to failed and failing facility infrastructure, environmental compliance issues, old and aging equipment, and needed safety improvements. Additionally, the economic downturn has caused solid waste revenues to fall, just as costs and requirements for capital expenditures have increased.

Earlier this year, the County Council tasked SWAC with recommending a sustainable system for funding the utility and its capital needs. According to Solid Waste Manager Steve Alexander, SWAC will consider combining several revenue sources into a rate structure for the utility at its meeting today, 11:30 a.m. in the Conference Room of the County Legislative Building in Friday Harbor. The meeting is open to the public.

One source under consideration would be a “gate fee,” which is a flat rate paid each time a customer utilizes a transfer station for solid waste disposal (recycling is exempt from the gate fee).

Another source under consideration would be a “parcel fee” which would be an annual fee charged to all parcels within the disposal district. Developed parcels with a dwelling or business would be charged more than undeveloped parcels.

Consideration is also being given to a Town of Friday Harbor capital fee that would be a negotiated annual payment intended to equal what town residents would pay if they were part of the disposal district and subject to the parcel fees.

The current tipping fee revenue source would be continued but at a reduced rate.

The recommendation that goes to the council will include information about rates and how much each type of fee will be. He said that there will also be discussion about the possibility of earmarking each fee for a specific purpose; for example, the committee could recommend that the proceeds of the “tipping fee” be used only to fund recycling.

The County Council is scheduled to hear a presentation on SWAC’s rate structure recommendation at its meeting on Sept. 15.

In the meantime, on Sept. 1, the council will hear a presentation from the Solid Waste utility dealing with the utility’s immediate revenue shortfall. Options that will be discussed include closing the transfer stations on Orcas and San Juan Island one day per week to reduce operating and personnel expenses.

The meeting agenda is available on the COUNTY CALENDAR

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