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City, county officials eyeing rate hikes for garbage disposal

FILE – Trash is lifted to feed the fires of the Waste-to-Energy Plant Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2015. The incinerator, operated by the city of Spokane, burns much of the garbage produced locally. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE – Trash is lifted to feed the fires of the Waste-to-Energy Plant Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2015. The incinerator, operated by the city of Spokane, burns much of the garbage produced locally. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County officials have proposed a 3.5 percent boost in rates to dispose of garbage at the county’s two transfer stations in Colbert and Spokane Valley.

The rate increase would be the first since the county bought those facilities from the city in 2014, and would take the cost per ton from $101 to $104.50, with a minimum payment of $15.

Kevin Cooke, the county’s director of environmental services, said his team had not developed a model to pay for equipment replacements at the two sites, or for the increased cost of disposing larger quantities of garbage.

“Taking all those things into consideration, a rate increase is reasonable,” Cooke said.

The Solid Waste Advisory Committee, a group of representatives from local governments, businesses and commercial waste haulers, voted this week to send the proposal to the Spokane County Commission for final approval.

Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan, the city’s representative on that committee, said the county originally came to members with a proposed 3 percent rate increase earlier in 2016. He was surprised by the additional 0.5 percent included in the recent proposal.

“Apparently they didn’t have their ducks in a row, when they briefed (the committee) some months ago,” Fagan said.

Cooke acknowledged the 3.5 percent figure is more than what orginally was proposed, but pointed out that the county’s fees still would be lower than the $105.36 charged at the city-operated Waste-to-Energy Plant on the West Plains.

Trash haulers like Waste Management pay the fees at the transfer stations, so the rate increase could affect the price of trash pickup at the curb. If the county commission approves the increase, there would be a mandatory 75-day waiting period for trash haulers to negotiate their rates with customers before the increase takes effect, Cooke said.

Waste Management is contracted to pick up the county’s trash, while the city of Spokane maintains its own fleet of garbage trucks and drivers.

Meanwhile, city officials say 2016 has been a banner year for garbage collection and disposal, allowing Spokane to generate and sell more electricity to Avista Utilities.

The city’s Waste-to-Energy Plant is projected to receive 273,203 tons of solid waste by the end of the year, up 8 percent from 2015. It’s projected to sell 124,396 megawatts of electricity, a jump of nearly 13 percent, plant manager Chuck Conklin said.

Scott Windsor, the city’s director of solid waste collection, said new construction projects likely account for a large share of the increased tonnage. And, he said, “business is booming” in the area, meaning residents are consuming more and generating more garbage.

Windsor said expenses are rising with increased production at the Waste-to-Energy Plant, but that’s been offset by annual city utility rate increases of 2.9 percent. Rates will jump another 2.9 percent in 2017, after which the City Council may need to make adjustments, he said.

The Waste-to-Energy Plant incinerates garbage from Spokane County and most of its cities. Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake both opted out of the regional solid waste system and instead ship their waste to a landfill in Wenatchee.


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