City approves increased trash pickup rates

Commissioners unanimously approved increases in trash pickup fees during their Feb. 18 meeting.

The new rates go into effect March 1.

In January, city staff presented their annual rate analysis to commissioners with the proposed fee increases.

City proposing increased trash pickup rates

Residential and commercial service rates are increasing 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.

Public Works Director Jim Rearden said about 2,000 people are receiving the senior rate.

One person asked questions about the senior rate and only John Hubbard, who goes by Johnny Angry, spoke in opposition to the rate increase.

[The rate analysis presentation slides are available here]

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.

Commissioner Rick Tryon said he would vote for the increase since it’s just 95 cents per month and there’s a good balance with competition with the private company, Republic Services.

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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 were 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 recommended 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 new rates, the fee for cardboard recycling is increasing from $15 to $20.

The landfill rate will 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.