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Your garbage rates are going up

Find out how much and why
by: Arwen Ungar TRASH CASH — After gathering garbage from Columbia County homes, an area hauler dumps trash into a pile at the Columbia County Transfer Station. The garbage will then be gathered and compacted before traveling to its final resting place at the Riverbend Landfill in McMinnville.

Spurred by rising operating costs for both the Columbia County waste transfer station and waste management companies, many area residents will see higher garbage bills this year.

For those visiting the Columbia County transfer station, reactions were mixed. Many who rarely visit the station said they wouldn't feel that much of a hit from the higher rates.

Clatskanie resident Jay Chesboro said he infrequently dumps waste at the station and the moderate change in rates for garbage collection is small enough to cause little effect on him.

'It's probably fair,' Chesboro said. 'There's probably a lot more garbage to get rid of than before.'

Many reiterated that sentiment, but others who have to take regular trips to the transfer station, such as construction contractors, were incensed by the increase.

Marc Hooper, one area contractor, said he visits the station frequently to dispose of waste for customers. He said he expects the added costs will lead to more illegal dumping in the area.

He said he was tired of the cost of everything going up.

'They're screwing us,' Hooper said. 'They're screwing us on everything else, why not this too?'

Last year, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners approved a board order that essentially said increases in disposal operating costs could be passed through to consumers on an annual basis to eliminate long periods between rate adjustments. Whereas most transfer stations have smaller annual adjustments, the last rate adjustment for the Columbia County transfer station occurred in 1998, Columbia County Solid Waste Coordinator Roy Weedman said.

The main justification for the rate increase is a detailed cost report compiled by the county, which was developed using confidential information from haulers about costs relating to operations.

This is the first year the county has used this report to set rates. Although proposed rates will increase in most areas, rural Rainier will see a decrease because of the cost analysis.

The annual base adjustment, which is based on a consumer price index, is 3 percent for this year.

Waste Management, the company that provides garbage services to Scappoose, Vernonia and many rural areas in Columbia County, also requested a 1.25 percent cost of living increase to cover fuel and insurance costs for Scappoose garbage retrieval, which has been approved by the Scappoose City Council.

Residents in the cities of Rainier, Clatskanie and St. Helens will see a similar pass through rate increase of 24 cents.

Rates will be in effect beginning July 1 for most municipalities and in the unincorporated areas, the latter assuming county commisssioners approve the rate increase following a Wednesday, June 22 hearing.

'Fuel has gone up about 30 percent,' Waste Management District Manager Dan Wilson said. 'Health insurance and fuel costs are two of the big [increases] that have hit us hard.'

But costs to consumers won't simply rise 4.25 percent across the board, City Manager Jon Hanken said. For curbside pick-up, rates on a 32-gallon container will rise from $20.55 to $21.05 representing only a 2.4 percent increase. Fees will fluctuate based upon the amount and type of the service.

'Let's be realistic,' Hanken said. 'It's not fun to pass on a rate increase. But increasing small amounts each year rather than waiting a couple of years to do a 10 percent increase is preferable.'

For rural unincorporated areas in Clatskanie, St. Helens, Scappoose and Vernonia, the potential new rates are slated to rise anywhere from 7.5 percent around St. Helens to 37 percent in outside of Vernonia. Rural areas outside of Rainier will see a decrease of less than 1 percent.

The change in rates is due to increasing or adding on services for rural south county customers and the aforementioned county cost-analysis report.

Waste Management plans to add bimonthly recycling services to rural areas, which previously had none, like unincorporated Vernonia, or had once monthly services, like unincorporated Scappoose, Weedman said.

Because rural Vernonia previously had no curbside recycling services, the 37 percent increase represents the highest increase.

Fast facts about the transfer station:

Average tons of waste disposed per day: 80

Average tons of waste disposed per month: 1,900

Average tons of waste disposed annually: 27,000

Total waste disposed in 2010: 2,712.73 tons

Full-time employees: 6

Years in operation: about 6

Cost of disposing 1 ton of garbage before increase: $114

Cost of disposing 1 ton of garbage after increase: $117.42

Source: Columbia County Transfer Station