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Raise rates on higher waste customers, says commission

Thursday, April 10, 2008 by Mark Richardson

When the City began it’s Pay as You Throw waste collection service in 1997, the idea was to offer three levels of service – 30, 60 and 90-gallon carts – priced so that customers paid for the volume of waste they disposed. The system has worked well over the past decade, but as times have changed, so has the city’s priorities for waste disposal.


Members of the city’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission have been studying the “rate gap” – the amount between the three service levels – and have recommended that the city consider increasing that amount as an incentive for customers to throw less trash. At last night’s SWAC meeting, members heard a rate increase proposal by the city, but asked staff to reconsider, saying the increase was too small.


In October of this year, the Solid Waste Services Department plans to expand its Single Stream recycling pilot program to the entire city. Under the Single Stream, or All-In-One, program, the city will replace the current small blue recycling bins with a 60-gallon cart. Customers will no longer need to sort their recycling; it will be sorted at a Materials Recycling Facility, or MRF (pronounced “Murph”), and the materials will be sold to secondary markets. There are other benefits including mechanized pick-up and more items being accepted.


With the advent of the All-In-One recycling and the city’s goal of Zero Waste in the future, members of the city’s SWAC have been studying Pay as You Throw rates to try to put in adequate incentives for customers to use smaller garbage cans and recycle more materials.


The fees for the city’s refuse carts have stayed the same since the program, began in 1997 — $4.75 for a 30-gallon cart, $7.50 for 60 gallons and $10.25 for 90 gallons, plus a $7 base fee for all accounts. The rate gap for Austin is $2.75 a month – the amount of difference between the three rates.


In a study done in 2007, the Solid Waste Services staff did a survey of cities with 300,000 or more population with Pay as You Throw programs. It found one city, Minneapolis, has a smaller rate gap at $2. Other cities, such as Portland, Fort Worth and Sacramento, had a $10 to $15 rate gap, and some other cities, like Seattle and Oakland, had rate gaps between $20 and $30 dollars.


City staff proposed a schedule of rate adjustments for 2009 designed to widen the rate gap for customers. It is recommending a 10-percent cut in the cost of a 30-gallon cart to $4.28, a 17 percent increase for 60 gallons to $8.75, and a 15 percent hike for 90 gallons to $11.75. Customers would also continue to pay the $7 base fee, in addition to the rates.


SWAC members felt that there should to be a wider gap between the rates, especially for the 90-gallon cart.


“It seems to me that a 15 percent increase in the 90-gallon carts is just a token increase,” said Commissioner Casey Walker. “That doesn’t really provide that much of an incentive.”


Commissioner Tracy Sosa said customers should not be too resistant to a significant rate increase. “It’s been the same for more than 10 years. They’ve been getting a pretty good bargain.”


Commission members did not give city staff a specific amount to increase the rates, though after the meeting several agreed that they would like to see a $10 to $20 rate gap. Staff said it would bring back a new proposal at the SWAC’s May meeting.

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