By Meg Olson
After more than a year studying the Point Roberts solid waste system, gathering public input and researching options, Whatcom County Health Department environmental health supervisor Jeff Hegedus thinks he may have an answer.
Hegedus met with applause and thanks from committee members when he attended the June 13 meeting of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC). “I am incredibly confident you are representing our community’s interests,” said committee member Jeff Christopher.
Hegedus was reporting back to the committee following a unanimous motion at their March meeting to look at a form of taxing district to support the solid waste system and ensure everyone creating waste contributes to disposing of it properly.
“What we continue to hear is that mandatory collection is supported here,” he said, while it is now effectively optional.
The county already has a special waste collection district, established in 1996, under which everyone must have curbside collection services. However, that same law also has provisions for property owners to apply for an exemption. “Then in the ordinance that talks about service levels they made additional language for Point Roberts that said people who lived here seasonally would be encouraged to have curbside collection but didn’t have to,” he said. “In Point Roberts, if you’re seasonal you don’t even need to get an exemption.” The result is that while Cando Recycling and Disposal only has 300 customers out of the Point’s 2300 developed properties, he is nevertheless required to provide the service, and the state regulates what he can charge.
Hegedus said he investigated the possibility of creating a public utility district, but it was not an option for solid waste, and was too complicated for what should be a simple solution. Creating a special purpose district to manage solid waste would be a bad fit, he said, effectively like using a zoning ordinance to enforce speed limits.
The simplest way he found was to use the existing solid waste ordinances, which already provide for the collection of excise taxes to support hazardous waste programs in the county, and the complicated tariff structures Cando files with the state.
“The level of service ordinance needs to be updated and can be amended to shape what we want,” Hegedus said.
Cando’s tariff with the state could also be modified to establish a base fee for solid waste collection that would be collected with property taxes for all improved parcels, such as the cost of one mini-can every other week with recycling. Properties who wanted more service would be invoiced for that by the service provider directly
“Now we have to start modeling this,” Hegedus said, starting with a meeting with the county treasurer to see if the plan is feasible both practically and legally.
Hegedus will also be meeting with Cando owner David Gellatly to see how his operations and costs would change if he was serving a customer base of 2,300 rather than 300 properties. “If more people use this service prices will go down and service levels go up.”
Gellatly said to serve 2,300 homes he predicted he would collect garbage and recycling in four zones on different days. “The benefit of having that economy of scale is it would allow me to improve my staffing level. I would be able to have more full-time staff,” he said.
An area of public dissatisfaction highlighted by a community survey Hegedus and his staff conducted last year was the condition of the transfer station and limited hours. “He’s not making enough money to hire people or improve that facility,” Hegedus said. Longer transfer station hours, he suggested, could decrease illegal dumping, another important community concern that was raised.
There were no dissenting voices in the audience when it came to the need for mandatory garbage service. “Basic service really belongs in property taxes,” said taxpayers’ association president Mark Robbins, stating that his association had long supported the concept.
PRCAC members unanimously endorsed the concept of including a fee for basic garbage and recycling services on property tax bills, with Gellatly abstaining. “It will be a similar process to that of moving the character plan into section 20.72,” said committee chair Joel Lantz, with staff crafting the language that would then be reviewed by the county solid waste advisory committee and ultimately approved by county council.
Hegedus said he would come back to the committee with a written report on progress for their July 11 meeting.