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County approves hike in minimum trash disposal fee, land ownership swap to ease solid waste's funding woes

Nearly twice as much: That's how much it could cost to dispose of a single can of garbage at San Juan County's solid waste transfer stations.

On Tuesday, the County Council approved steps to help remedy the funding woes of its solid waste operation. Included is an 87 percent increase in the price to dispose of a single can of garbage.

The council voted 5-1 to raise the minimum disposal fee from $8 to $15 and approved an "emergency declaration" in light of the operation's financial problems. It instructed county staff to investigate a potential bond sale to generate new revenue for the solid waste division and to prepare for an exchange in ownership and debt of two properties managed by the Public Works Department.

The pending increase must be approved by the council at public hearing before it would take effect.

According to Public Works Director Jon Shannon, the Solid Waste Capital Fund would receive $220,000 in an ownership swap within the Public Works Department. The capital fund would take over ownership and debt of the Lopez Island solid waste transfer station and would receive credit for improvements made at that site. The Equipment Rental and Revolving Fund would assume ownership and the debt ($577,500) of the Beaverton Valley Road property on San Juan Island and the 20-acre mothballed landfill on Lopez Island.

Though billed as an across-the-board increase, the $15 minimum fee would apply almost exclusively to a single can of garbage or on loads of 100 pounds or less. The existing self-haul rate of 14.7 cents per pound, or $269 per ton, remains unchanged at this point. The new minimum fee could take effect 10 days following its final approval.

Councilman Gene Knapp, Orcas East, cast the lone dissenting vote. Knapp said those who self-haul already pay nearly $100 more per pound than solid waste's two largest customers, San Juan Sanitation, the county's franchise hauler, and the Town of Friday Harbor. He said he would support an "emergency surcharge" of 14 percent if it were paid by all.

With an emergency declaration in effect, Shannon said Public Works may be able to build a cover over the tipping floor of the San Juan solid waste transfer station sooner than without it. The emergency status will allow the department to forego the county's normal competitive bidding process and deal directly with a single contractor on the project. County agencies must put projects of $300,000 or more out to bid.

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