Private contractor Waste Management is asking thousands of Spokane County residents to pay about 10 percent more for trash collection beginning next year, a move that has some city and county officials crying foul.
In a letter sent last month to residents of Millwood and unincorporated areas of northeastern Spokane County, Waste Management of Spokane said the rate hike for about 23,500 county customers was needed due to “rising costs for disposal, fuel maintenance and other operating and office expenses.”
But Spokane County and Millwood officials accuse Waste Management of a cash grab in the wake of major changes in trash collection regionally.
The proposed rate increase is subject to review by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, which will hear arguments at a public meeting Dec. 30.
“We’re looking out for our citizens,” said Bill Wedlake, the county’s regional solid waste manager.
Robin Freedman, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, said the rate changes were necessary under a new service structure caused by Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake’s decision earlier this year to contract directly with the company.
“The densely populated areas have really been subsidizing the entire cost for the more rural areas,” Freedman said, adding that 57 percent of the population within the previous service area resided in the two cities.
The proposed rate switch, which will add roughly $1 to the monthly bill for customers using a 32-gallon can for trash collection and about $3 for those using a 96-gallon cart, would also affect some residents living within Spokane city limits as a result of annexation, said Ken Gimpel, the city’s assistant utilities division director and a former employee at Waste Management.
Gimpel questioned the company’s claims about rising costs, saying fuel prices “are probably the lowest they’ve been in a decade or so.” He said the company is usually justified in its requests for a rate increase, but their reasoning this time around doesn’t tell the whole story. Waste Management said the main reason for asking some residents to pay more was because Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake left what is called “their regulated rate base” by instead entering into contracts directly with Waste Management, rather than having their rates established through the oversight of the Utilities and Transportation Commission.
But Waste Management continues to collect fees both for collection and disposal from residents in those two cities, Gimpel said, and the contracts were negotiated, not dictated.
“The issue I have with this, if you look at that transmittal letter they appear to be coming across as victims rather than perpetrators,” Gimpel said.
Freedman said the company’s hand was forced by the actions of Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake.
“The rate increase will actually reflect the administrative costs” of serving Millwood residents and other areas of the county, she said.
In a letter signed by all three Spokane County Commissioners, Waste Management is accused of seeking “an unjustified increase in profit … at the expense of citizens in the unincorporated areas of Spokane County, as well as the citizens of the City of Millwood.” County staff pointed out that disposal fees will decrease for Waste Management in January at the two transfer stations now run by the county, and say the company is disposing garbage it collects outside of the Regional Solid Waste System at a landfill in Wenatchee, which provides them another revenue stream.
The Millwood City Council will send a letter of protest to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission ahead of the Dec. 30 meeting, said Tom Richardson, clerk of the Millwood planning department.
“We just want to make sure that they understand we think this is unexpected, and we want to make sure that they do what they’re supposed to, to watch out for the ratepayers,” Richardson said.
The rate hike would be Waste Management’s first since 2013, according to the letter sent to customers.
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