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$3 gate fee would generate $240,000 a year for solid waste operation

A $3 gate fee aimed at recycling? Or a $4 hike in the minimum disposal fee instead?

The San Juan County Council agreed Aug. 10 to consider the potential fee increases to bolster the cash-strapped solid waste operation and help erase an anticipated $334,000 shortfall by the end of the coming year.

The County Council voted 4-2 to schedule those increases for public hearing Aug. 24; that hearing is expected to be continued without a decision.

Councilmen Howie Rosenfeld of Friday Harbor and Bob Myhr of Lopez/Shaw voted against taking the proposals to public hearing, though for different reasons.

Rosenfeld said a gate fee should first be evaluated by the Solid Waste Advisory Committee before it goes to public hearing. He said collecting such a fee at the San Juan Island facility would require some amount of investment in infrastructure and traffic control, creating even more financial drain on the solid waste operation.

The potential fee hikes will be discussed by the Solid Waste Advisory Committee Aug. 26. That's two days after the public hearing begins but before it reconvenes.

"The whole concept of charging for recycling is a big deal," he said. "I understand we're going to give SWAC an opportunity to take a swing at this, but what if they say 'No'?"

According to Public Works Utilities Manager Ed Hale, a $3 gate fee would generate roughly $240,000 a year and help bring financial balance to the operation by the end of 2011. It would act as a funding "bridge" until the council determines how the system will operate and be funded over the long haul.

The amount of revenue generated by a $3 fee is built on an assumption that the number of people bringing recycling to the county's three solid waste facilities will remain largely unchanged. It also doesn't account for the recent decision by the Town of Friday Harbor, which contributes about $330,000 in disposal fees each year, to take its garbage to Skagit County.

The council agreed that trash collected as part of beach cleanup parties and by roadside volunteer cleanup crews, as well as noxious weeds, will continue to be accepted without charge at each of the three county solid waste facilities. And at the insistence of Councilman Gene Knapp of East Orcas, the council agreed that either funding option, if approved, would "sunset" at the end of 2011.

"Interim laws frequently become permanent laws," Knapp cautioned. "I'd like to see a deadline."

Myhr maintains that a $4 boost in the minimum disposal fee — at $12 — would raise roughly the same amount of revenue as a $3 gate fee. Putting a price on recycling, he said, may discourage many from recycling and lead to an increase in litter.

"I have some problems in the direction we're heading," he said.

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AT A GLANCE
Disposal fees collected by island
— San Juan: $1,304,483 (2008), $1,162,505 (2009), $2,466,988 (two-year total)
— Orcas: $1,055,881 (2008), $1,013,562 (2009), $2,069,443 (two-year total)
— Lopez: $219,232 (2008), $213,437 (2009), $432,669 (two-year total)
— Total: $2,579,596 (2008), $2,389,504 (2009), $4,969,100 (two-year total)

Disposal fees collected by customer class
— Self-haul: $1,341,192 (2008), $1,192,923 (2009), $2,534,115 (two-year total)
— Franchise: $766,975 (2008), $708,951 (2009), $1,475,926 (two-year total)
— Town: $336,581 (2008), $326,003 (2009), $662,584 (two-year total)

Disposal expenses by island
— San Juan: $830,357 (2008), $753,996 (2009), $1,584,353 (two-year total)
— Orcas: $750,219 (2008), $705,125 (2009), $1,455,344 (two-year total)
— Lopez: $246,618 (2008), $239,631 (2009), $486,249 (two-year total)

County's recycling expenses
— Overall: $311,609 (2009)

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