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Commissioners raise garbage rates

Garbage disposal rates will rise $6 a ton next year instead of $12 as originally proposed by Spokane city officials.

However, a compromise approved Tuesday by Spokane County commissioners will allow the new $104-a-ton rate to rise again, by $3 a year, in 2013 and 2014.

Commissioners were unenthusiastic about the deal, and encouraged city officials to limit the future increases.

“I’ll hold my nose,” Commissioner Todd Mielke said of his support for the increase.

Commissioner Al French objected that the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System offers “premier” service when he thinks recession-weary rate payers would settle for less.

French joined Mielke in approving the 6-3-3 increase, but Commissioner Mark Richard voted no.

Richard thought city officials should have given more consideration to reducing public operating hours at transfer stations, perhaps closing them on some weekdays when demand is low.

French said city officials offered the three-step increase after concluding that an estimate of $8.8 million for landfill closure costs should be reduced to $7.1 million. Materials that can’t be burned are sent to the city’s North Side Landfill in the Indian Trail area.

City officials said the rate increases were needed, in part, to cover higher costs under an extension of Wheelabrator Spokane’s contract to operate the Waste-to-Energy Plant. Commissioners approved the contract extension Tuesday.

Under the agreement that created the solid waste system, Spokane owns and manages the incinerator, but county commissioners control rates and major expenditures.

In other business Tuesday:

•  Commissioners voted to seek $60,000 from the Washington State Historic County Courthouse Rehabilitation Grant Program to pay half the cost of making the front door of the county courthouse handicap-accessible.

Plans call for a curved ramp from an existing sidewalk along the front edge of the courthouse. The ramp will lead to a landing that will be created by moving the front steps about four feet away from the building.

Facilities Director Ron Oscarson said new granite steps will be installed, but existing granite banisters will be used.

“It’s going to look very close to how it is today,” Oscarson said. “The goal is to make it accessible and still maintain the aesthetics of the courthouse.”

The work will restore public access through the now-closed front door. A security station at the west side of the building will be moved, allowing access to newly remodeled offices currently blocked by a scanner.

The auditor’s vehicle licensing division will occupy the new offices. Depending on weather and availability of materials, work on the front steps may be completed by the end of the year or sometime next spring.

•  Commissioners agreed to allow District Court judges to hire a temporary court commissioner to fill in for Judge Vance Peterson, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who has been recalled for a year of active duty in northern Afghanistan.

Peterson told county officials in an email that he expects to return by Oct. 30 next year. Peterson said the county won’t need to pay him during his absence except for 21 days of military leave and 20 days of vacation.

His $141,500-a-year salary is to be diverted to the temporary commissioner’s $120,000 salary.

•  Commissioners planned to ask Fairchild Air Force Base officials for help in paying a $282,304 overrun in the removal of abandoned Geiger Spur railroad tracks from the base.

The base arranged a $500,000 federal grant for the work, but contractors encountered more contaminated soil than anticipated.

Commissioners hope base officials will provide more money or accept cost-cutting measures such as reducing the amount of landscaping.

The county agreed to remove the tracks as part of a successful effort to realign and save the rail line after the Air Force decided it could no longer cross the base because of security concerns.