WUTC to hear rate increase

By Meg Olson

Cando Recycling and Disposal has applied to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) for a review of their proposed new tariff.

In a September 11 filing with the state regulator, the company asked for changes to the company’s tariff, which sets the rates they can charge, for the first time since they applied to take over garbage operations in Point Roberts in 2008. In his letter accompanying the filing, company owner David Gellatly said the new rates will “implement service to an additional 1,800 residential garbage and recycling customers,” as part of the changes to the county’s new service plan for Point Roberts.

Approved by Whatcom County Council in June and due to be implemented in January 2019, the plan eliminates exemptions to garbage collection in Point Roberts and establishes a minimum annual service level of twenty-six 32-gallon cans to be collected on a regular pickup day at the discretion of the property owner. All properties with a water connection would be billed for this minimum service level through the county property tax bills.

Under the proposed new rate, the monthly cost for residential collection of a 32-gallon can every other week would increase by $1.32 for a total of $12.12 and recycling would increase by 26 cents for a total of $5.59. Combined, the monthly charge for trash and recycling would be $17.71 for a total annual cost of $212.52. There are no proposed changes to what recyclables would be collected except for the addition of “no plastic bags.” The only plastics collected would still be necked plastic bottles.

Commercial dumpster rates would change from $34.45 for the first pickup and $39.70 for additional pickups to $38.65 for each pickup.

Gellatly said the rates reflected recommendations from WUTC regulatory staff after their analysis of the company’s financial records, employee hours and duties, depreciation schedules and anticipated volumes of waste and recycling under the new county plan.

“I’m at their mercy,” he said. “I did not come up with these rates. They have asked for substantial information over many weeks and continue to, and they used their methodology to come up with these rates.”

A letter to Cando’s customers was sent out on September 10 informing them of the filing and announcing a hearing to be held at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 11 in Olympia at which the commission will hear recommendations from WUTC staff, take public comment and set final rates. Cando requested the hearing occur within 30 days of their filing rather than the statutory 45 days so that the county will have adequate time to establish billing through property tax rolls, Gellatly said.

The public can comment through the WUTC website at utc.wa.gov, by email at comments@utc.wa.gov, by mail at 1300 S. Evergreen Park Drive, PO Box 47250, Olympia WA, 98504-7250 or in person at the hearing.

Opponents of the upcoming changes in the garbage system held a meeting at the Gulf Road community center on September 22 attended by over 40 people.

“We wanted to make everyone aware of the issues and how to contact the WUTC,” said Ken Calder, one of the organizers of the Garbage in Point Roberts website garbageinpr.com.

The website collected almost 600 responses to a survey asking people about their use of the solid waste system that they will submit to the WUTC, Calder said. With 75 percent of survey respondents being full-time residents, Garbage in Point Roberts is encouraging seasonal residents to fill out the survey to better reflect the Point’s demographic.

The minimum service level approved by the county is too high for the needs of most Point Roberts property owners, Calder said. They want to see the minimum service level set at one 20-gallon can per month, or a variable 12 pickups per year. The rate being proposed by Cando sets a price for that service, but the minimum service level established by county ordinance is for a variable twenty-six 32-gallon cans.

“We want the WUTC to reject this rate and go back to the county,” Calder said, requesting that the minimum service level be reduced. Residents in other locations in Whatcom County are able to select their service level at the minimum offered by the hauler serving their area, which is one 20-gallon can a month.

On September 12, Calder asked the Point Roberts Taxpayers’ Association, which had endorsed eliminating exemptions to mandatory garbage pickup when it went before county council in June, to send a letter to the county supporting lowering the minimum service level. Board members voted 7-4 in favor of lowering the minimum service.

Calder said the current rate case also merited dismissal by the WUTC because the filing did not meet the statutory requirement for submission 45 days prior to the hearing.

Kate Griffith with the WUTC said “the less than statutory notice is more of a technicality” which commissioners will consider when they review staff recommendations on Thursday, October 11.

The applicant is required to notify affected customers 30 days prior to the hearing, which Cando did, and the timing of the filing with the WUTC had been necessary to meet county billing arrangements.

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