By Meg Olson
With the blessing of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC), the county health department and the local garbage company will begin modeling what a mandatory garbage pickup system will look like with a goal of having the system in place by 2019.
“The direction we wanted to go was where everyone in Point Roberts has a solid waste system they’re happy with and proud of,” said Jeff Hegedus with the county health department, which oversees solid waste in the county, at the August 8 PRCAC meeting. “Places where they don’t have good solid waste management, it impacts quality of life.”
The health department started their review of the local garbage situation in fall 2016 with a survey to gauge community priorities, Hegedus said. Results identified five areas that needed to be addressed in designing a system that’s right for the Point: reasonable cost of service, level of service, curbing illegal dumping, system stability and a healthy recycling rate.
“In 2001, people were having the same discussions,” Hegedus said. “What we are now trying to do is find solutions.” Through a series of five meetings with PRCAC, Hegedus said they had seen growing support for mandatory garbage collection.
As they looked closer at how that kind of system might work, PRCAC and the health department identified the county’s property tax role as a good way to charge every improved lot for garbage service. “We found out from the county treasurer it is feasible to do it, not as a property tax but as a fee,” that would appear on property tax bills, Hegedus said.
“What if there was a minimum service level everyone had to pay?” he suggested. “Instead of 300 people paying for the garbage collection system you’d have everybody. Maybe you could even decrease costs with better economy of scale and improve levels of service.”
One suggestion from the audience and committeemembers for better service was a biannual curbside junk pickup such as the one that exists in South Delta. “It’s a logistics problem,” said David Gellatly, committeemember and owner of CanDo recycling and disposal. “They have 15 garbage trucks.” With more customers, it is possible the company would have enough business to have sufficient trucks to make such a program feasible.
Hegedus said the system would be based on a minimum level of service, a 20-gallon can and recycling pickup every other week, for example, which currently costs $10.99 per month. “It occurs to me that’s not onerous,” Hegedus said.
The fee would appear as a line item on annual property tax bills. Customers who wanted additional service would be billed for that directly by the company.
Committeemember Keith Glading said that garbage was a utility like the water system and that everyone should be paying to support it. “Like your water bill, if you aren’t there for six months you still have a bill to pay,” he said.
Since they began considering a mandatory system Hegedus said they had received three comments, one from a part time resident who didn’t want to leave a can of garbage at the curb if they weren’t there for pickup week. “There is a fee for carry out,” in the existing tariff, Hegedus said, adding that customers should call the company if they had a special circumstance and chances are there was already a solution.
The committee directed Hegedus to begin modeling what the system would look like and working with regulators to make it happen.
“None of this is set in stone. We’re trying to picture what it might look like. We want to set a level of service that’s not onerous,” Hegedus said. “It feels like we’re getting somewhere. The ingredients seem to be there.”
The county treasurer needs to have the roll of properties to be charged by November of each year and Hegedus said there were “too many moving parts” to get the system underway by this November. “If this is where you want to go, we can come back to you with the feasibility of making next November.”
In other PRCAC business, chair Joel Lantz reported on a July 15 special meeting at which the committee took a “very high- level look” at how it wanted to model the review of local zoning and land use as outlined in 20.72 of Whatcom County code. “What we talked about is let’s look at economic development as part of that. One of the things we talked about is if we want to change the footprint of our commercial zone.”
Gellatly said the Port of Bellingham had indicated it could help fund an update of the 1998 Point Roberts Economic Development Plan. “Businesses aren’t rushing to come to Point Roberts,” he said. “We still have the same businesses doing the same thing: gas, cheese, parcels. We need the county to start doing something positive.”