The Lane County commissioners on Tuesday delayed a decision on possible big increases in the garbage tipping fees that the county charges at its Short Mountain Landfill.
Facing opposition from garbage haulers and concerns from at least three cities in Lane County, the commissioners directed the county staff to look into the possibility of smaller but more regular increases in the fees, and to have more discussions with garbage haulers and others over the next month.
Several commissioners said there had been a lack of public discussion and input into the proposed fee increases.
"I'm a little concerned that if we move this fast on this we may actually cause ourselves more problems," Commissioner Jay Bozievich said.
Lane County's waste management staff proposed garbage fee increases of 15 percent for commercial haulers. That would translate to an increase of 1 to 4 percent on the garbage bills of most county residents. Also, the county staff proposed increases of 11 to 15 percent for individuals who take their own waste to the landfill.
According to the county staff, the increases are needed to cover an annual $1.5 million gap between expenses and revenues in the waste management division, and to accumulate enough reserves to cover the costs of building new sections of the landfill and closing others.
Commissioner Sid Leiken said that while garbage haulers understand some level of rising costs, the size of the proposed fee increases hold a "shock-and-awe" factor and commissioners "don't necessarily want to go there."
Leiken also alluded to several of the cost-saving measures that haulers have urged the county to look at: shuttering some of the money-losing waste transfer stations in rural communities, or cutting back on the subsidized recycling and hazardous waste programs that the county operates.
"Are we getting bang for our buck (with the transfer stations)? To me, that's a very legitimate question we need to ask," he said.
"There's a lot of freebies out there to incentivize folks to" recycle, Leiken added. "Government can't be all things to all people anymore."
Dan Hurley, manager of the county's waste management division, defended the cost of running the rural transfer stations.
"It makes sense if you look at it as one (waste disposal) system" for the whole county, he said. "I don't think we can expect the rural sites to pay their way, or those fees will be significantly higher the farther out you go from Short Mountain. I'm not sure that's fair."
Hurley also backed the different recycling and waste disposal programs that the county subsidizes.
"We provide a good level of services for the amount of money we take in," he said.
The waste management division hasn't benefited from a tipping fee increase since 2007, Hurley added, and the proposed $10 tipping fee increase for commercial haulers would translate to only a monthly 55-cent garbage bill increase for Eugene residents.
"Let's keep that in perspective when you talk about potential service cuts," he said.
Public testimony on the fee proposal was mixed.
Cottage Grove and Florence leaders came out in opposition to the increases Tuesday. City of Eugene officials have expressed concerns about them, according to the county staff.
Jake Boone, a Cottage Grove city councilor, said the city objects to the practice of transferring $1.1 million in tipping fee revenues annually to the county's Land Management Division -- where it pays for long-term planning, nuisance and county code enforcement, and customer service personnel for permit applications.
"We're a bit incensed about it," Boone said. "It's really hard for us to justify asking for a rate increase in something when the increase could be ... partially gotten rid of by not robbing that fund to pay another fund."
If the tipping fee increases are approved, Boone said, Cottage Grove would consider allowing its private garbage hauler to forgo paying what's known as a "system benefit fee" to the county. Without that fee, it would be cheaper for the city's hauler to take trash to a privately owned landfill outside Lane County. And that could cost the county landfill $446,000 a year in lost revenue -- roughly 3 percent of its total revenues.
"Other smaller towns may well follow suit if we decide to pull out," Boone said.
Conversely, several representatives of Glenwood-based BRING Recycling came out in strong support of the fee increases.
"Higher tip fees motivate people to think about alternatives to landfill disposal, which is frankly coming to be an archaic way of handling waste," said Julie Daniel, the nonprofit agency's executive director. "Waste is largely a voluntary behavior. You choose what you buy and what you discard."
The commissioners are now scheduled to revisit the issue in mid-April.
Separately, the board approved, on a unanimous vote, the employment contract for new county administrator Steve Mokrohisky that will pay him a base salary of $165,000. Including all other benefits, Mokrohisky's total compensation will total $220,584.