The Columbia County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, July 10, tentatively approved monthly rate increases for curbside solid waste collections in Vernonia, Scappoose and St. Helens rural areas.

The monthly collection rate for Scappoose is proposed to increase by $1.28 to 26.57, and the Vernonia rate will increase by $2.09 to $26.61. The rate in St. Helens will increase by $2.14, to $26.62.

The commissioners directed staff to compose the order for the price increase. It is expected to receive final approval July 24 and go into effect Aug. 1.

Yearly cost ratio reports submitted by the two franchise waste and recycling haulers in Columbia County — Waste Connections serving Clatskanie, Rainier and St. Helens rural areas, and Waste Management serving Vernonia and Scappoose rural areas — outline the companies' revenue picture after expenses are calculated, and served as rationale for the price bump.

If the cost ratio is less than 8 percent, a rate adjustment is suggested to target the optimal ratio of 11 percent.

Representatives from Waste Connections said the main driver requiring a rate increase in St. Helens was a decrease in commercial customers resulting in the loss of $15,000 in 2012. Among other factors leading to revenue loss was the company's temporary decision to cease entering some customers' driveways to pick up garbage containers, apparently causing some customers to stop service.

Ernie Martin, site manager with Waste Connections said that the decision to stop collecting containers from driveways was based on safety. "The reason why it stopped was because it was unsafe for our trucks to go in," he said. "Our trucks have become bigger over the years. It really depends on if we're able to go in and out safely."

Martin added that disabled customers who cannot bring their trash to the road are always accommodated .

“I have a hard time sympathizing with respect to the driveways,” said county commissioner Henry Heimuller. “You cut service to your customer base.”

Commissioner Earl Fisher noted the companies' revenue loss is partially a result of the economic downturn throughout the county. “A lack of commercial activities has a spin-off,” he said. “When those things go off, it has a ripple effect.”

Waste Connections and Waste Management both noted a decrease in customer accounts and longer travel routes as causes of low operating ratios.

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