WUTC pushes trash review back

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) will put off their decision on garbage rates in Point Roberts while they get some questions answered.

“Folks have raised some issues I want some clarification on,” said WUTC chairman David Danner at an October 11 open meeting in Olympia. Commissioners agreed to keep their review of the rate revision being proposed by Freedom 2000 LLC, doing business as CanDo Recycling and Disposal Services, over until their scheduled October 19 meeting. They directed staff to look into questions about adequate notice to customers and how multi-family properties are served.

Both issues were brought up at the meeting by Point Roberts resident Allison Calder, one of five members of the public who spoke at the hearing either in person or by phone. Calder, the manager of Kiniski’s Reef Tavern, said that the company’s request to have its rate case heard with less than statutory notice (30 instead of 45 days) was unnecessary and that commercial customers were being hit with a 20 percent increase in their rates.

“I’m here to ask that the commission issue an order suspending the proposed rate until this can be further investigated and commercial users properly notified,” she said.

Freedom 2000 has filed a tariff revision that would go into effect January 2019 to implement changes in county code adopted May 2018 eliminating exemptions to garbage collection for residential properties on the Point.

The company has not filed a request to have its rates revised since it took over garbage collection in Point Roberts and company owner David Gellatly told the commission they had been on the verge of doing do in 2016 when the county approached them and asked them to hold off until they could work out changes to the garbage system to put downward pressure on rates and insure vendor stability.

The new rates would generate an additional $398,000 of revenue as the company would be mandated to serve an additional 1,800 customers under the new rules.

WUTC staff is recommending approval of the new tariff with a requirement for a compliance filing each August for the next two years, which the company has agreed to, to allow staff to make sure the new rates pay for the cost of expanding service to a larger customer without generating unreasonable profit to the provider.

“Commission staff has reviewed the company’s books and records, and the proposal by the company, and found that if the company had filed a rate case for just the current service provided to the current 300 customers the company would be entitled to approximately $34,000 in additional revenue,” stated the staff report, which would translate to an increase in rates to current customers of over 18 percent. With an additional 1,800 customers and taking into account the additional cost of service and investment, the proposed rates for every-other-weekly garbage pickup, the county mandate, would increase by 8.1 percent.

Whatcom County Environmental Health supervisor Jeff Hegedus said the county needed a WUTC decision by November 1, so that they could submit a list of properties to the county treasurer, who will be billing all properties that pay a septic fee for garbage starting in 2019.

Commissioner Jay Balasbas had questions about whether it would be sufficient for the county to get the parcel list in place by November 1 but delay rate approval until November 30, eliminating the need for a fast-tracked review.

Commissioners also asked staff to look into some grey areas in the matter of how multi-family properties are served that Calder had raised. County code defines multi-family as properties with five or more dwelling units per tax parcel, and the proposed tariff does not have a rate for these multi-family properties and they are currently being treated as commercial properties and served with a dumpster and no recycling services.

“Gulf Aire is being treated as commercial yet they are all individual tax parcels so will they be paying twice?” she asked. There are enough multi-family properties in Point Roberts that should be served with both garbage and recycling, she said, and the tariff as proposed did not reflect that.

Initially deferred to the WUTC’s October 19 open meeting, the matter has been put off until the November 30 meeting.

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