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City Council: Recycling problems force $2-per-month increase in trash rates

In response to the recycling crisis, Lebanon residents can expect their bills for trash service to increase by $2 per month beginning July 1.

City Finance Director Matt Apken presented two options, at the request of Republic Services, to the City Council during its regular meeting on Wednesday, June 13.

The first option was to continue recycling as current with an emphasis on cleaning up the contaminated material that represents almost 10 percent of the total material in carts, with a fee increase of $2.

The second option was to begin putting the recycling in a landfill, which also carries a cost. The fee would increase by $1 under this option.

“In addition to the monetary cost, the environmental cost should be considered,” Apken said in a memo to the council.

“I don’t know if we’ve really got a choice,” said Councilor Rebecca Grizzle.

“(Option) two is just not good stewards,” said Mayor Paul Aziz. “I don’t think the option two is a viable solution for anybody.”

“China has made some big changes,” said Julie Jackson, municipal relations manager for Republic Services. All of the West Coast’s recycling primarily was going to China, and some 60 percent of the world’s recycling was going to China.

“China has basically shut the doors and said, ‘We’re not going to take your recycling any more,” Jackson said. “So none of our recycling is going to China. That has left the processors, the people that we send the recycling to sort, scrambling for new markets for recycling.”

Oregon law states that if it costs more to recycle than to landfill, that material is no longer considered recyclable, Jackson said. Republic has been at that point since about August.

“We, really along with most of the industry, thought that China would be backing down a little bit by now, but they’re not,” Jackson said. “They’re pretty serious about cleaning up their environment, which we support.”

That leaves processors in a position of finding recycle markets, Jackson said. “Their only job is to look for markets for that material. That’s how they make their money, so they’re very motivated.”

Recycling in the United States at the curb has never been clean enough to enable a domestic supply of recyclers, Jackson said. There are some plastic recyclers, but they won’t take curbside recycling. A Canadian recycler takes plastic, but it’s about $300 per ton plus transportation cost, about five to six times the price Republic is paying now.

“We’re looking for solutions that are reasonable,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to landfill recycling. We’re eligible to landfill recycling. Like I said, we have been since August, but we don’t want to do that.”

“We are asking all communities for $2 per household for increased recycling cost. The cost of that is this: A year ago we were getting paid for recycled commodities. That’s how our rates are built, assuming that we get paid a little bit for them. Now we are paying. When we calculated the $2, we were paying about $47 a ton. We’re now paying over $67 a ton. So we have about a $120 change in revenue from a year ago today.

“We really thought we could just bear that without going to the communities, but I don’t think anybody in the state thinks this going to change. We think this is kind of a reset for recycling. So the days of commodities being worth much are probably over or gone for awhile.”

The sorting facilities are adding more lines and shifts, she said, and that increases costs. That cost is passed along to Republic.

Republic hasn’t found any communities that want to landfill recycling, she said. “We’re encouraged by that.”

At the same time fees are going up, Republic has updated its list of items allowed in recycling bins.

Some materials have been taken out because there is no market for them, Jackson said. She cautioned against “wishful recycling,” noting the time one customer kept putting items in with the hope that Republic would learn how to recycle them.

Contaminants are the other big problem, Jackson said. Diapers are one of the main contaminants along with food waste on the recyclable materials. Recycled food containers should be emptied, cleaned and dried before hitting the recycling can.

The council voted 6-0 to approve a resolution to continue recycling, raising solid waste fees by $2.

The monthly cost of a can will increase to $25.99 per month. For a 20-gallon cart, the cost will be $22.31; for a 32-gallon cart, $24.38; and for a 90-gallon cart, $34.80.

Present at the meeting were Wayne Rieskamp, Grizzle, Aziz, Bob Elliott, Robert Furlow and Floyd Fisher. Jason Bolen was absent.

In other business, the council:

n Directed city staff to draft a memorandum of understanding with the Linn County Board of Commissioners that the city will collect a proposed transient occupancy tax on behalf of the county if the commissioners approve the new tax.

In exchange, the city will receive 5 percent of the revenue collected by the county’s tax.

“We’re talking 2 or 3 (percent), said Commissioner Will Tucker, who attended the council meeting. “I don’t know which way it will go.”

The commissioners will vote on the proposal on Tuesday or a week from Tuesday, he said.

Lebanon charges a 9-percent transient occupancy tax, and the state charges 1.8 percent, Tucker said.

The state legislature is preparing to begin collecting the tax on behalf of the counties and cities as more of them implement transient occupancy taxes, Tucker said. The commissioners do not want to create a collection process only to scrap it in a couple of years. The cities already have a collection system in place.

Based on quick calculations, Apken said that Lebanon would receive $4,750 for the service.

Based on that figure, the county would collect some $95,000 from the room tax, while Lebanon receives about $285,000.

While prices are rising, the county’s Fair and Expo Center is aging, Tucker said. It’s 20 years old, and other cities and private businesses are building competing facilities. It needs improvement to continue to attract events.

The Fair and Expo Center gets a lot of use for gun shows, dog shows, horse shows and much more, Tucker said, but it’s lost some events to new facilities due to the aging buildings.

It’s the way it looks, the condition of the buildings and technology infrastructures, which has changed since the facility was constructed, he said.

He would like to get Expo Center capital projects out of the county’s General Fund, he said, while the county will continue to pay for operations out of the General Fund.

The vast majority, about 90 percent, of Albany’s hotel business is connected directly to Fair and Expo Center events, Tucker said, and the county will use funds from the Albany area to support capital improvements at the center.

“We as a county don’t like day use fees,” Tucker said. He would like to see the county offset day use fees with revenue from the room tax. With it, the county can move capital projects for parks out of the General Fund too.

Parks operations are already funded outside the General Fund based on user fees, he said.

Events like an annual water polo tournament draw people to the area, he said, and they stay in Lebanon hotels because Sweet Home has a small number of hotel rooms. The same thing goes for music festivals in the area.

He would like to use some of the tax revenue to help pay for more events like that.

n Approved the purchase of 966 Park St., just  south of the Richards Cleaners and Morley Thomas Law Firm buildings for $60,000. The city will use the vacant lot to create 21 new parking spaces near City Hall. System development charges for parks will cover the cost of the purchase.

n Denied a request by Larry and Nikki Spires, doing business as Northside Developers, LLC, to waive some $4,381.32 in storm water drainage fees for four properties totaling 50 acres adjacent to Reeves parkway and Highway 20.

In a letter to the city, they said the “subject services for which we are being billed are not specifically costing the city anything during the time in which we have received these billings. Lebanon has not provided any storm water management to these properties funded by Lebanon taxpayers.”

The Spireses noted that they worked with a neighboring property owner to resolve storm water management issue.

City Manager Gary Marks contended that they do receive a benefit from the city’s storm water drainage system, ensuring streets are open and useful.

“A farmer who cultivates the Spires’ property for agricultural benefits from access into and out of the subject property and throughout the community via public streets due to the community-wide storm water drainage system,” Marks said in a memo to the council. He said that  staff was unable to ascertain a direct public benefit to waiving the fee.

Councilors said waiving the fee would set a poor precedent, and everyone else with a vacant lot would have the same right to have the fee waived.

n Entered into a new maintenance agreement with the Lebanon Community School District for grounds maintenance. Last year, the School District paid the city $100,000 to maintain district grounds. This year, the district will pay $150,000 and expand  the total amount of land maintained by the city by about 36 percent.

n Approved a motion to proceed with construction of a new “Welcome to Lebanon” monument near the northern entry to Lebanon on Highway 20.

A welcome monument already exists on the south side of Lebanon, south of Weldwood Drive.

The new monument is designed to match the 1920s- and 1930s-era architecture of the area and downtown core. It will feature a concrete arch over a sidewalk next to Academy Square, replacing one of two poles used to hang banners over Highway 20.

Text on the sign will say, “Welcome to Lebanon, the city that  friendliness built” and “Est. 1878.”

The cost is estimated at $30,000, Marks said.  Landscaping and a bronze plaque will cost an additional $5,000. The Transient Lodging Tax Fund’s Visitor Improvement Program account  will pay for the improvement.

n Approved the combination of the Tree and Park Advisory Board, the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and an informal group that brings members of city staff and members of the Build Lebanon Trails group together to plan trail projects.

Members of the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee objected to the decision because their group focuses on the Transportation System Plan and alternative modes of  transportation as opposed to trails.

The new board will have seven members, including two citizens whose primary interest is in community trees; two members primarily interested in trails, including pedestrian and biking uses; a council representative, the engineering services director and maintenance services director.

Marks said filling long-term committee positions is getting more difficult, while noting that the Tree and Park Board primarily has been focused on trails rather than parks.

Ad hoc committes, like those used with Strawberry Plaza, Gillott Dog Park and the Northside Welcome Sign, will have members drawn from the immediate neighborhood or those with a particular interest in specific projects.

Overall, he believes it will improvement citizen involvement in the process.

n Authorized staff to seek bids for the West River Trail Interconnect. Staff proposes to pave the southern leg of the Island  Loop Trails at Cheadle Lake. The estimate is $200,000. The City of Lebanon received a $103,800 Recreational Trails Grant for the project. BLT will fund approximately 67 percent of the paving costs, with the remainder funded by system development charges.

n Annexed 3.33 acres  at 3080 S. 10th St, north of the intersection of Vaughan and 10th. The Planning Commission approved a 14-lot subdivision contingent upon annexation.

n Annexed 7.42 acres on the southeast corner of Russell Drive and the Albany & Eastern Railroad right-of-way, opposite the intersection of Russell Drive and Franklin Street, changing the zoning on the property from low-density residential to mixed-density residential. No development plans have been submitted to the city at this point.

n Adopted $54.7 million budget, a reduction of $15 million from the current  year budget, approved by the Budget Committee for 2018-19 following a public hearing. No one offered testimony during the public hearing.

The General Fund totals $14 million. The Water Fund is $10.9 million; Storm Drainage Fund, $937,000; Wastewater Fund, $7.1 million; Streets Fund, $1.1 million; Equipment Acquisition and Replacement Fund, $2 million; Parks Improvement Fund, $1.4 million; Wastewater Improvements, $2.2 million; Wastewater Improvements Fund, $400,000; Streets Improvements Fund, $3.1 million; Water Improvements Fund, $1.5 million.

Staffing levels increase by 5.7 full-time equivalents, including one police officer, two water plant operators, one parks maintenance position one information technology position, one economic development position and a half-time senior services position. The Dial-A-Bus position moved from .8 FTE to 1 FTE. One vacant engineering position will not be filled.

n Adopted budgets as urban renewal district boards for the NW Lebanon Urban Renewal District, $3.3 million; Cheadle Lake Urban Renewal District, $1.1 million; North Gateway Urban Renewal District, $5.7 million.