Lane County commissioners today will discuss, and potentially approve, a 15 percent increase in the garbage tipping fees that the county charges at its Short Mountain Landfill -- a price hike that would be felt by most county residents.

The proposed increase is needed, according to county staff, to cover an annual $1.5 million gap between expenses and revenues in its waste management division; to allow the county to set aside enough money every year to build a new $10 million "cell" or section in the landfill when it's needed in 2024, as well as other smaller future capital projects; and to maintain sufficient reserve funds to cover future costs of closing down different sections of the landfill to meet state and federal environmental standards.

Under the proposal, there would be a $10 increase to the current typical $67 per-ton tipping fee that licensed garbage haulers from all over the county pay to dump trash at Short Mountain, starting on July 1.

That increase would be passed along by haulers to county residents, who could see their garbage bills grow by between 1 and 4 percent, depending on where they live. County officials say the average customer in Eugene would see a 55-cent increase to their monthly garbage fee.

Rates for individuals who haul their own garbage to the landfill would also see big increases in their tipping fees under the proposal. For example, the fee for dumping three trash cans worth of garbage, or about half a cubic yard, would rise to $10 from the current $9. That's an 11 percent boost.

The county's finance and audit committee, which includes Lane County commissioners Pat Farr and Sid Leiken, approved the potential increases in late Febraury, sending them to the full board for final approval.

The "lack of openess" around the proposal and the pace at which it has advanced has infuriated Tim Alverson, the general manager of Cottage Grove Garbage Service, a private hauler that contracts with the city of Cottage Grove.

County officials initially revealed the proposed increases to some people at a January meeting, but the county has not held any public hearings on the issue.

Alverson said he's closely examined the analysis that served as the basis for the rate increases and claims it has several problems. The county is projecting employee costs to grow at a rate of 8 percent a year and non-employee costs to rise at an annual rate of 4 percent, even though total waste tonnage taken to Short Mountain has decreased by 24 percent since it peaked in 2006.

"Their costs are trending up in a way that's unsustainable," he said.

"Their operational strategy is broken but they aren't looking at efficiencies. It's all on the revenue (generating) side.?... The bottom line is we don't want to have to have our ratepayers pay more."

Alverson said the county should look to close some of the department's 16 garbage transfer stations, mostly in smaller communities, that lose money. It should cut back on funding "green initiatives" that reduce the total tonnage sent to Short Mountain -- and therefore cuts into the division's revenues, he said. And, he added, it should redirect to the landfill the $5.50 per ton portion of the commercial tipping fee that since 2009 has gone to fund the county's land management division, which deals with land-use, construction permits and planning issues.

Dan Hurley, manager of the county's waste management division, acknowledged Monday that there's been a "mixed" reaction to the proposed increases.

"I think people realize the importance of the services that waste management provides," he said. "But wanting to pay for them can be a different story."

The waste management division is funded entirely by tipping fees, and doesn't receive any money from the county's general fund. It is responsible for operating the landfill, the transfer sites, recycling and waste reduction programs, and cleaning up illegal dump sites. The division has 72 full-time employees and about 60 part-time workers. Last summer, it had reserves totaling $21 million, but those funds are being spent down at a time when they should be growing to cover future capital investments, according to Hurley.

Hurley said there hasn't been any increase in the tipping fees benefiting waste management services since 2007. The additional revenues from the last $2 per ton increase in 2009 went to the land management division, he said.

Hurley added that the department has looked at the potential cost savings from all of Alverson's ideas. It has also looked at possible savings from shutting down its Master Recycling and nuisance abatements programs, or ending its subsdized hazardous waste disposal services and incentives for recycling.

But all those elements taken individually make up a relatively small portion of the department's budget, Hurley said.

Alverson said that, because "his complaints have fallen on deaf ears" at the county, he is contemplating hauling his garbage to Coffin Butte, a privately-owned landfill near Corvallis.

To do so could be potentially cheaper, Alverson said, if he can opt out of paying the county's "system benefit fee" -- a portion of the existing tipping fee used to subsidize recycling and waste reduction programs in Lane County.

Currently, haulers must pay that fee even if they don't take their waste to Short Mountain, unless their city opts out of the system entirely.

Alverson is now lobbying city leaders in Cottage Grove to do just that. Junction City and Veneta have already opted out.

Hurley said that, should Cottage Grove take its waste elsewhere, it could potentially cost the waste management division $446,000 a year -- roughly 3 percent of its total revenues.

Commissioner Farr said Monday that he expects a "fairly robust" discussion at today's board meeting.

"Based on what I've heard so far, we may have more to lose than to gain" by approving the increase, he said.

Follow Saul on Twitter @SaulAHubbard. Email saul.hubbard@registerguard.com.

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