City raises stormwater, waste rates

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The Port Townsend City Council approved a capital surcharge of $6 a month on the city’s stormwater customers and an increase in the solid waste collection rate with its existing collection company, but not without some debate among the council members, and one show-and-tell exhibit from a current waste disposal customer.

Renee Busch hauled her 20-gallon plastic bin to the podium at City Hall April 15, making the point that her bin is 12 gallons less than the smallest size of 32 gallons offered under the city’s proposed contract with DM Disposal, and she still doesn’t manage to fill it up twice a month, which was the proposed collection schedule.

Busch pointed out that the city, along with other governmental agencies, has emphasized the slogan of “reduce, reuse and recycle” when it comes to waste, but has failed to accommodate citizens who have put that motto into practice.

“Why should I pay for service I’m not going to use?” Busch said.

Public Works Director Greg Lanning joined council members Ariel Speser and Michelle Sandoval in sympathizing with Busch, but Lanning and Sandoval also acknowledged that waste collection works on economies of scale.

“It’s cheaper to collect more garbage than less,” Sandoval said, adding that the system was “broken” in that regard.

Sandoval was nonetheless pleased to hear from Lanning that weekend collections had been contractually stipulated to avoid overflows of trash during peak periods, such as the summer and popular public events.

While the council unanimously authorized the city manager to negotiate and execute a contract with DM Disposal for solid waste series (council member Amy Howard was absent for the evening), council member Bob Gray expressed concerns about the increased costs to the public of both the proposed collection rates and the stormwater surcharge.

Gray was so concerned with the cumulative impact of so many rate increases and surcharges on city residents that he cast the lone dissenting vote against a capital surcharge of $6 a month on the city’s stormwater customers.

“We should be looking for ways to level off or even reduce these costs,” Gray said. “They hit families with children harder. I’ve voted for these increases for seven years, but I can’t do that without finding some area where they can be reduced, but we never talk about that.”

While all of Gray’s fellow council members agreed with him in principle, they asserted lack of maintenance could do further damage.

Mayor Pro Tem David Faber noted costs of living have increased while wages have remained “stagnant,” but agreed with Finance and Administrative Services Director Nora Mitchell that the city is “not in a position to cut its rates” currently, especially with its “significantly aging infrastructure.”

Mayor Deborah Stinson described the city’s responsibility to its infrastructure as a primary mandate.

“We cannot make a profit, but we have to cover our expenses,” Stinson said, noting the city’s lack of other revenue streams.

Sandoval lamented that council members cannot “just vote with our hearts,” but must instead “protect the city in the long term,” even as she lambasted a national infrastructure funding system that she accused of functioning like a lottery, in which only a lucky few receive support.

Speser and fellow council member Pam Adams thanked Gray for raising the discussion, but both spoke of the need to “move forward,” with Adams emphasizing how the infrastructure funding was “screamingly needed.”

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Tom Camfield

We've long been in the same boat as Ms. Busch. But the only part of it all that burns me is the non-recyclers in small-family households who can sometimes fill a couple of cans with weekly pickup. The same type in whose general trash one often hears rattling cans and bottles when they occasionally haul a mixed load and dump it themselves at the collection center.

Saturday, April 20