August 25, 2011 in City

Waste disposal costs to rise

Commissioners weigh new incinerator contract
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Revisions in the contract for operating Spokane’s garbage incinerator would contribute to a proposed 10.2 percent increase in countywide garbage disposal costs.

County commissioners directed their staff Wednesday to take a hard look at a suggested $10-a-ton increase in disposal costs, from $98 to $108. But they leaned toward approval of a three-year extension of Wheelabrator Spokane’s contract to operate the Waste-to-Energy Plant.

“I think the struggle is whether the $108 number is the best we can get,” commission Chairman Al French said.

Commissioners wanted details of an inflation allowance that regional solid waste Director Russ Menke said averages 2.5 percent a year. They also wanted more information about a $15-a-ton charge for “miscellaneous operating costs.”

“I want to get greater details before I say, ‘Let’s move forward,’ ” French said. “But we need to move forward in some fashion.”

The contract extension would keep the Spokane-owned facility going until November 2014, when a new organization is to replace the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System.

Under the current arrangement Spokane controls day-to-day operations but commissioners must approve any increase in the per-ton “tipping fee” as well as contract changes that would cost more than $1 million.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said in an interview that the proposed tipping fee increase would have relatively little effect on garbage-collection rates, which include numerous other costs.

Menke said the tipping fee increase he proposed would add only about $1 to the monthly charge for 64- to 68-gallon residential garbage-collection service.

“I certainly don’t like any increase in tipping fee, but the tipping fees have been artificially frozen for years,” Verner said. “… It has caught up with us.”

County commissioners have refused to grant increases in recent years, to force the system to spend reserves that otherwise would go to the city when a new regional system is created.

The system’s member governments agreed earlier this year to form a new organization that answers to a regional board.

City officials previously had asked county commissioners to approve a contract extension that called for $18 million worth of Waste-to-Energy Plant improvements and other cost increases. Lack of assurance that the cost could be spread over more than three years forced the city to renegotiate with Wheelabrator.

In the process, the city lost a concession in which Wheelabrator would have given up its right to take over another company’s winning bid to operate the plant.

However, Wheelabrator accepted a smaller fee increase than previously agreed. Also, a list of plant improvements was reduced to a $4 million replacement of corrosion-susceptible boiler superheaters.

Overall, Menke said, the new agreement reduces a $2.1 million-a-year increase to about $800,000.

Staff writer Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.


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