City Council approves 2.4% rate increase for trash service

By Sean C. Morgan

Lebanon Local

Lebanon residents will see a 2.4-percent increase in trash rates, 64 cents for the average residence,  for Republic Services pickups, starting Jan. 1.

The City Council approved the rate increase for the new year during its regular meeting Wednesday evening, Dec. 11. The city’s franchise agreement with Republic requires City Council approval of proposed increases.

The rate increase is based on the annual Consumer Price Index, said Ron Whitlach, acting city manager. “As inflation increases, they increase. Rather than taking larger increases throughout the years, they just follow, basically, what the consumer index is.

“We do the same thing with our utilities. We would typically look at things and see what the inflation over the year before was and what we’re projecting for the next year. We do that in order to try and (keep) pace with everything, and then that way we’re not coming with big rate increases. That’s the hope anyway.”

The City Council implemented the annual CPI rate methodology in 2014, with the adjustment based on increasing wages, which comprise 65 percent of the calculation, diesel fuel (25 percent) and disposal rates (10 percent).

Republic sought and received a larger increase, 5.7 percent, an average increase of $1.43 per month, for Republic customers last year to help cover rising costs.

The city has been working with Republic to understand the rate model to ensure it is protecting the best interest of the public, said Finance Director Matt Apken, adding that the CPI model is doing that for the most part.

Staff members have started talks about a possible renegotiation of Republic’s franchise agreement that would allow a hold on CPI increases when Republic’s revenue is above a certain level, Apken said.

Apken presented a comparison of rates to those in Salem, Marion County, Lake Oswego and Wilsonville. Lebanon was the lowest, with a price of $23.66 per month for a 32-gallon cart and $34.67 for a 90-gallon cart.

The next lowest among the sample communities was Wilsonville, which charges $28.11 for a 32-gallon cart and $36.89 for a 60-gallon cart, offering no 90-gallon cart.

Salem had the highest charge for a 32-gallon cart, at $30.75 per month and $40.10 for a 60-gallon cart. Lake Oswego residents pay $49.21 per month for a 90-gallon cart.

Present at the meeting were council members Wayne Rieskamp, Michelle Steinhebel, Jason Bolen, Karin Stauder and Robert Furlow.

In other business, the council:

♦ Learned that Sodaville, the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture approached Whitlach late last summer, informing him that Sodaville needs help with water.

Scio buys and trucks water from Lebanon now, Whitlach said. He told them the city would entertain the idea.

“The biggest thing, this can’t impact our ratepayers whatsoever,” Whitlach said of his response. “But let’s take a look at what you’ve got.”

Sodaville is in the process right now of putting together a contract with Carollo Engineers, which did the study for Lebanon’s Water Treatment Plant, for a feasibility study “of running a pipe out to Sodaville and providing wholesale water, lots and lots of details to work out,” Whitlach said. He recommended Carollo to Sodaville “because if it’s coming off our plant, I want somebody that’s familiar with our plant, that knows how that’s going to react.”

The state and USDA are working out how the project will be paid for, Whitlach said. “I think everybody would like to see it happen. I think the biggest hurdle is who’s going to pay for it and how much is it going to cost.”

♦ Approved a contract with Prothman, a consulting firm, to conduct a search for a new city manager for $18,500 plus related expenses.

Prothman will meet with the council in a work session on Jan. 22 to develop a community profile and job description. The council will consider approval of the profile and job description at its regular meeting on Feb. 12, and Prothman will post the profile and begin advertising on Feb. 17.

The application closing date will be March 22. Prothman will screen applications and interview the top eight to 15 candidates through March 30.

During the week of April 6-10, Prothman will meet the council in a work session to review semifinalists, pick finalists and design the final interview.

Final interviews will be held April 20-24.

A new city manager could start approximately June 15, according to Prothman’s schedule.

♦ Adopted a Master Plan Needs Assessment completed by Mackenzie, a professional architecture firm.

In the assessment, Mackenzie evaluated the existing City Hall and projected what the needs of the facility would be over the next 30 years.

In August, Mackenzie presented three options for a new City Hall based on the poor condition of the current City Hall and the cost to renovate being higher than the cost of new construction, Whitlach said. The consensus of the council was to locate a new City Hall at the northeast corner of Academy Square, east of the Senior Center.

The project would cost between $7 million and $13 million depending on the size of the building, Whitlach said. The debt payment on the project would range from $440,000 to $780,000 per year.

“Obviously, bonding it is not a real palatable option,” Whitlach said, and he and Apken think, “at first blush,” they may be able to find a way to get most of the funding through the budget.

He asked the councilors whether they wanted him and Apken to look further at funding options or to table the question for now.

“I’m not a fan of kicking this thing down the road like we’ve done with other things that have come back (to) bite us,” Bolen said. “This building needs to be replaced in a bad way.”

Among deficiencies, the assessment found that the building is not sound and should be evacuated in a storm with sustained winds of more than 40 mph.

“I think there’s really no time like the present to at least start a conversation about how we would do that,” Bolen said. “This is not a commitment to dive into this right now, but what you’re talking about is coming back with some options of what’s feasible, what’s not feasible, what would be the directions to take if we’re going to move forward on this in the near future.”

Whitlach said he agreed.

“Maybe what we get out of this is, hey, we’re going to set aside X every year and start putting money away so that in five years we’ve got a pot of money that we can use toward debt service and kicking the thing off the ground.

“I don’t think this is going to happen any time fast. It seems like over the course of the last three to five years, we’ve kind of brought it, and then it dies and brought it. So we don’t want to put any more staff time into it unless we want to move it down the road.”

“The longer we kick the can down the road, the more expensive it’s going to get,” Rieskamp said.

Whitlach said the building has a lot of maintenance issues but still functions.

“We’re still just one wind event away,” Bolen said. “We’re not kidding, right? It’s structurally unstable.”

Stauder agreed, and the council asked Whitlach and Apken to look into funding options.

♦ Approved a resolution allowing the fire marshal to issue citations for violations related to fire safety matters, such as fire lane obstruction and fire access road obstructions. It also would apply to open burning violations.

“I don’t agree with that,” said resident Keith Murphy, telling the council he opposed the idea. “I don’t believe, when you have a Police Department, that’s what they’re for. The fire department is to put out fires.”

Bolen, who is the Lebanon Fire District’s fire marshal, said that fire safety issues are important, but police officers have more serious and pressing criminal issues to deal with rather than responding to reports of fire safety violations.

He said the Fire District has seen an uptick in minor violations.

Murphy said when he lived in Philomath, “they went overboard” with citations.

“I can assure you that I am much too busy with my usual job duties to go overboard with anything,” Bolen said.

♦ Approved a non-exclusive franchise agreement with Pacific Power. The current 10-year agreement expires on Dec. 22.

The new agreement included minor changes in timing and notifications, Apken said. It also increased the franchise fee from 5.94 percent to 7 percent.

The fee increase helps offset increasing city expenses, Apken said.

♦ As the Cheadle Lake Urban Renewal Agency, approved new agents, who sign off on transactions, for the agency’s debt reserve account to reflect turnover in staff.

♦ Approved an ordinance update that explicitly states requirements for candidates seeking elective office. The ordinance previously referenced the provisions in the city’s 1979 charter. It also moved other details to their own section in the code.