City sanitation division updating fleet to cut maintenance costs, proposing rate increase

Public Works is considering some changes to sanitation rates and the public hearing is set for Feb. 5.

During the Jan. 15 work session, Public Works Director Jim Rearden updated City Commissioners on their operations, equipment upgrades and comparison with other cities.

Staff is proposing a 5 percent rate for residential and commercial collection rates to cover expenses, which are rising in large part due to increased operations and equipment costs, specifically the replacement and maintenance of the fleet, according to staff.

If approved, the new rates will start March 1.

Rate increase proposed for city trash collection

The department has been updating the sanitation fleet over the last few years and in 2015 did a thorough analysis of their average year of vehicle, which at the time was 2004.

In 2016, the department purchased six new units and now the average year of the sanitation fleet is 2013, Rearden said.

By purchasing new equipment, the department substantially reduced maintenance costs, Rearden said, since those costs had been rising 7 percent annually.

Rearden said that based on actual and projected maintenance costs from 2013-2023, the department will save about $1.3 million in maintenance costs, the equivalent to the cost of purchasing five or six new trucks. The department is planning to purchase six new units in 2023, Rearden said.

proposed trash rates 2019

The 10-year average residential sanitation annual rate increase is 2.86 percent, according to city data.

The annual residential rate increased since 2009 were:

  • 2009: no increase, rate was $9.66 per month
  • 2010: 30 cent monthly increase to $9.96 per month
  • 2011: no increase
  • 2012: no increase
  • 2013: no increase
  • 2014: $1 monthly increase to $10.96 per month
  • 2015: 55 cent increase to $11.51 per month
  • 2016: no increase
  • 2017: 58 cent increase to $12.09 per month
  • 2018: no increase
  • 2019: 61 monthly increase proposed to $12.70 per month

Commercial rates were last increased in October 2015.

City code requires that property owners have sanitation services and the city serves about 77.5 percent of the sanitation customer base in Great Falls, with 15,699 residential customers and 1,187 commercial customers, according to city data.

Montana Waste Systems, which has been acquired by Republic Services, serves 4,904 residential and commercial customers, according to city data. Republic operates in a number of Montana communities, including Billings, Bozeman and Missoula.

City sanitation drivers each serve about 900 customers weekly, though some commercial service is daily, Rearden said.

Landfill costs are a significant portion of the sanitation budget, Rearden said, but have been fairly consistent over the last decade. In 2016, the city approved a long-term landfill contract with Montana Waste that carried over to Republic and the rate are adjusted annually based on the consumer price index.

Currently, the monthly landfill rate per ton to the city is $27.35. For Montana Waste customers, the landfill rate is $28.75.

Great Falls has the second lowest residential sanitation rate of the major Montana cities, after Billings where the rate is $10.98 per month and the landfill fee is $18.90, roughly $10 less than the Great Falls landfill rate, since the Billings landfill is municipally owned.

Missoula doesn’t offer municipal sanitation and the monthly residential rates is $29.77 with a $62.96 landfill fee.

The Bozeman government is in a similar situation to Great Falls in that the landfill is privately owned. There, the municipal monthly residential rate is $24.45 and the Republic rate is $25.66.