Editor’s Note: This article has been revised and edited from the version originally posted at 5:53 p.m.
By Meg Olson
Whatcom County Council has approved changes to county code that will eliminate exemptions to mandatory garbage pickup in Point Roberts.
At their June 5 meeting council heard from an almost evenly split 15 community members on the proposal, which would establish a mandatory minimum service level of a 32-gallon can of garbage to be picked up twice-monthly and billed through the property tax roll.
Opponents of the proposal cited a number of reasons for their opposition, primarily that the minimum service level was too high. “This exceeds the needs of 80 percent of those surveyed (in a 2016 online survey sponsored by the county solid waste division) who self haul or use tags,” Kimberly Butts said.
Ken Calder, also opposed to the changes, submitted a petition signed by 364 seasonal and full-time residents asking that council delay the decision until September to allow a recently formed solid waste subcommittee of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee to continue to look at the issue.
Those in favor of the change as well as county staff pointed out that PRCAC had been pondering the garbage collection for over two years, held numerous public meetings, sponsored an online survey and sent out a mailer. “There have been numerous opportunities for people to put in their two cents’,” Arthur Reber said. “This process has been very thorough and collaborative,” said taxpayers’ association president Mark Robbins. Chamber of commerce president Dee Gough said her association also supported the proposal, saying mandatory trash pickup was the obvious solution to the perennial problem of dumping garbage on the roadsides.
Jeff Hegedus with the Whatcom County Health Department said by establishing a mandatory minimum service level for all developed properties, as determined by which properties have a water connection, it would lead to vendor stability because more users would support the system. “The idea is to go from 300 to 2,300 users which will provide economies of scale, allow higher service levels and put downward pressure on pricing,” he said.
Council voted 5-to-2 to adopt the change with Barbara Brenner and Tyler Byrd opposed. It will go into effect in January 2019. Property owners will see an additional $204 fee for garbage on their 2019 tax bill, equivalent to $17 a month for two 32-gallon cans and recycling pickup. Additional service can be ordered directly from the company.
The code amendment approved by council includes a change from the original draft that will provide flexibility to seasonal users, which Hegedus said had received strong community support. The fee will, in effect, act as a non-refundable credit, allowing users to set out 26 cans for collection at any time during the year. Summer residents who don’t come down to the Point until May, for example, won’t be paying for garbage picked up when they aren’t using the service in the first four months of the year. Come May, if they put out two cans a week for 13 weeks, that pickup service will be covered by the fee on their property tax statement (which is paid in April and October).