City proposing increased trash pickup rates

During their Jan. 21 work session, City Commissioners will hear the annual sanitation rate analysis from the public works department.

During the regular meeting, they’ll consider proposed rate increases on first reading and set a public hearing on the proposal for their Feb. 18 meeting. If approved, the new rates will go into effect March 1.

[The presentation slides are available here]

Staff is proposing to increase residential and commercial service rates by 7.5 percent, drop boxes by 5 percent and cardboard recycling by 33 percent.

That means a monthly increase of 95 cents for regular 96 gallon residential containers; $1.90 for duplexes; $2.85 for triplexes. Senior citizens get a reduced rate that will be increasing by 67 cents under the proposal.

A 96 gallon commercial container rate will increase by $1.55 monthly; 300 gallons will increase by $1.90; 1.5 yard by $2.70.

The 10 year average annual increase is 3.69 percent, according to city staff.

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With the increase, Great Falls’ monthly residential rate remains one of the lowest in the state. Billings would be be lower, but the city has no competition there and owns its landfill.

Staff reviews the sanitation fund annually to ensure it has enough funding for daily operations, capital improvements, debt service and emergencies. The sanitation fund does not receive general fund dollars and is considered an enterprise fund, meaning it’s sustained by user fees.

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City code requires the commission to adopt a resolution for sanitation rates to defray the cost of services for the fiscal year.

This year’s increases are proposed “largely due to the increase in operations and equipment costs. Furthermore, in the prior fiscal year, the sanitation fund did not meet its bond covenant for outstanding debt on the fleet,” according to the staff report.

Commission OK’s rate increase for trash pickup

The sanitation rates were last increased in March 2019 with adjustments to make the rates for duplexes and triplexes consistent with single family homes, according to the staff report.

That change, along with rates for monthly pickup for vacant businesses and a dry-run fee for unsuccessful attempts for contain pickups or dropoffs, were implemented last year.

Staff is recommending that the city maintain the monthly vacant business rate at $5, the flat surcharge for overweight containers at $105 and the monthly dry-run fee at $50.

Under the proposal, the fee for cardboard recycling would increase from $15 to $20.

The landfill rate would increase by 63 cents, or two percent, to $27.98 per ton in 2020, in part to help defray landfill costs, which make up about 22 percent of the sanitation division’s budget.

The city had 15,856 residential customers and 1,510 commercial customers in the last fiscal year, or 79 percent of the city’s customer base. Republic had a total of 4,611 residential and commercial customers, or 21 percent, of the customer base, according to city data.

According to the staff report, the increases are needed to cover the cost of services; capital improvements, specifically the replacement and maintenance of the fleet; meet debt service requirements and add two additional full-time employees.