By Pat Grubb
Aiming for a January 1, 2019 implementation date, county health department staffers Jeff Hegedus and John Wolpers updated the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) members on the latest steps being taken to establish a mandatory trash collection system for the Point.
At the committee’s regular meeting on February 13, Hegedus said, “I’ve looked at the All Point Bulletin as far back as 2001 and we’re still talking about the same problems [of handling solid waste].” Referring to development in Tsawwassen and in Point Roberts itself, Hegedus said it made sense to implement such a system before development actually occurs.
Hegedus reiterated to the audience that the current system of allowing residents exemptions from garbage pickup needed to be repealed. “In Whatcom County, it is the law that people must have curbside collection. What we’re proposing to do is to eliminate the exemption,” he said. Dropping the exemption will increase the number of customers to create a viable system in the long run, he stated. The increased customer base “… would provide significantly improved economy of scale, support cost structures, enable higher service levels and reduce illegal dumping,” according to the health department’s proposed recommendation to Whatcom County Council shared by Hegedus at the PRCAC meeting.
The health department projects that the customer base would increase from 300 to almost 2,300 customers. All properties that are currently assessed an onsite septic system permit fee on their annual property tax bill would be required to participate; that number currently stands at 2,254.
All properties would be charged for a minimum service level of every other week, 32-gallon container plus recycling collection. That level of service now costs $17.18 a month ($206.16 annually) as per the approved Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) tariff. Customers who require higher levels of service would be charged directly by Cando Recycling and Disposal, as they do presently.
Hegedus pointed out that Cando has not had an increase in rates for eight years and could expect to see its customer base decline should the UTC grant an increase in the future. The company expects to request an increase as part of the system restructuring as it will need to hire more employees and purchase new equipment and infrastructure to handle increased business. “I’m looking at putting out a couple of hundred thousand dollars in expenditures,” said Cando owner David Gellatly, adding he would need at least three months’ head start in gearing up.
According to an analysis provided to the All Point Bulletin by Gellatly, a rate review based upon increases in the Consumer Price Index since 2010 would result in a monthly rate of $19.81 for the minimum service level. While the UTC uses a variety of measures to determine rates, that figure would fall in line with what other solid waste handlers in Whatcom County and elsewhere currently charge.
Addressing the issue of summer and part-time residents being required to pay for year-round service, Hegedus pointed out that people aren’t being charged by the can, they’re being charged an annual fee for a service. For that fee, “they get all of the benefits of having a stable system.” People should consider the service analogous to the water district in that they pay for it even if they’re not here, he suggested. “That applies to lots of services: police, water and schools.” He also pointed out that people north of the border pay for garbage collection through their taxes and continue to pay for it even when they aren’t home.
Dropping the exemption for trash pickup requires changing Whatcom County Code Title 8, Chapter 11 which deals with solid waste districts. The change would come before county council who would hold a public hearing before voting on it. PRCAC members spent a good amount of time discussing the need to ensure the public was aware of the proposal and given ample opportunity to comment. A public hearing would not occur until the summer at the earliest.
Under other business, Jeff Christopher was elected chair, Joel Lantz vice-chair, Linda Hughes secretary for 2018.