Council balks at request to raise trash rates in city

The Lebanon City Council denied a request by Republic Services Wednesday, Oct. 10, for a 5.7-percent increase in rates for garbage service.

During the council’s regular meeting, Jason Bolen, Bob Elliott, Robert Furlow, Floyd Fisher and Wayne Rieskamp voted no on the proposal. Rebecca Grizzle voted yes.

Under the city’s franchise agreement with Republic, proposals to increase rates go to the City Council for approval. Effective Jan. 1, 2015, the council approved an implementation of a methodology for annual rate increases based on the Consumer Price Index.

The council approved a rate increase of 3.5 percent on Jan. 1. In June it approved an additional rate increase of $2 per month to address a dramatic increase in rates to dispose of recyclable material following China’s closure of its markets to U.S. recycling last year.

The request was based on multiple components, said Julie Jackson, Republic municipal relations manager. CPI represents 65 percent of the request, while fuel costs are 10 percent and disposal rates are 25 percent.

The proposed rate increase works out to an average $1.43 per month for residential customers. If approved, it would have taken effect on Jan. 1.

“It’s a little higher than it has been in past years,” Jackson said, but it fluctuates. Some years, it’s been lower than 1 percent.

Over a 10-year period rates tend to end up about the same, whether they are increased dramatically or incrementally, Jackson said, adding that annual increases are better than periodically requesting increases of 8 or 9 percent.

Jackson told the council “the bleeding has stopped” with recycling costs. Prices leveled off about three months ago, but paper recycling markets are tight.

She recently talked to a man who is hoping to open a high-tech paper recycling plant in the Northwest, Jackson said, but that will take four or five years if he is able to move forward with it. If the plant opens, it would handle more kinds of paper products than Republic can take now, such as paper coffee cups.

Republic has been trying to reduce the level of contamination in recycling, Jackson said, and in 2018, the company has seen a reduction of 163 tons of recycling. On the other hand, it has seen an increase of 136 tons in trash.

“You’re not alone,” Jackson told council members. The whole state is dealing with these changes.

She then told them she had some good news.

With the differences in Oregon trash service, the corporation has agreed to operate a local call center for customer service.

Republic has hired 10 new operators to work out of Corvallis, Jackson said. After hours, customers can still reach Republic’s out-of-state call centers.

Mayor Paul Aziz complained about Republic’s customer service.

He raised the issue in the past, and during the Oct. 10 meeting he played two videos depicting the problem: When drivers pick up recycling carts from the curb, they’re putting them back down on the streets, where they fall over with their lids open.

Two other councilors said they’ve seen similar problems.

“A 6-percent increase and that kind of customer service is not acceptable,” Aziz said, noting that he is very frustrated after talking about it previously.

Jackson said there is no excuse for what she saw in the video and requested a copy of the video so the company can address it.

She said the company has some new drivers who are in a hurry, and it can be difficult to set the carts back down where they’ll stand up.

Lebanon doesn’t have an ordinance about where to put garbage and recycling containers, Jackson said. Different cities prefer them in different locations.

An ordinance makes it a little easier to create some absolutes for drivers, she said.

Aziz said he would like a report back from Republic about what it’s doing to ensure drivers start putting the cans upright back on the curb.

Wayne Rieskamp asked whether Republic can see what is going into recycling carts, noting that one of his neighbors refuses to change what goes into the cart, choosing to recycle the same way that individual always has.

Jackson said Republic has a camera on the trucks, and the drivers can see some of what’s going into the truck.

Republic has been tagging recycling carts that have unacceptable materials, she said.

One of the problems is with yogurt containers. They used to be acceptable, and people still recycle them. Republic won’t tag for that kind of thing, but it will over large plastic packaging material or Styrofoam.

“Most people want to do it right,” she said. “But they just don’t know.”

The increase “is a bitter pill to swallow” after an increase at the beginning of the year and again in June, Grizzle said, especially when Republic has record revenues.

She could not speak for the company, but rates are based on local costs, Jackson said. “We do operate more like a smaller business.”

In 2018, the increase has been $3.43 per month, Elliott said. “Where does it all stop? We’ve got people on fixed incomes who are going to have a hard time with this.”

Grizzle asked if there were a way to provide rates for low-income customers.

Jackson said Republic could look at what others are doing and asked whether Lebanon had something like that for water bills.

Finance Director Matt Apken said that residents who qualify for Community Services Consortium assistance can qualify for a reduced water rate from the city.

Aziz suggested holding off on a decision until next month, but the council chose to vote and turn down the request.

Aziz said he would put Republic on the agenda for November.

In other business, the council:

n Voted to move forward with the creation of a new urban renewal district for the downtown area, including Ralston Park.

In an urban renewal district, property values are frozen at the point the URD is created. The URD collects revenue from the growth of assessed value after that point to complete projects.

This district will be different from Lebanon’s other three districts, said City Manager Gary Marks. Those were used to develop land. The proposed district is already developed and built, so revenues will be smaller.

A report on the proposed Lebanon Downtown Urban Renewal District would raise nearly $4.1 million from 2020 to 2044, funding $3.5 million in projects during the same period. Project estimates incorporate inflation estimates.

Among the proposed projects are streetscape improvements, $374,000; Ralston Park improvements, $692,000; design consultation, $35,000; street reconstruction, $1.6 million; financing fees, $29,000; plan administration, $376,000; and other projects, $385,000.

The proposed district will encompass 51.3 acres of property between Grove and Third streets and between Rose an Oak streets. Most of it is commercial. Four lots are residential mixed density.

“The purpose of urban renewal is to improve specific areas of a city that are poorly developed or underdeveloped,” Marks said. “These areas can have old deteriorated buildings, public spaces which need improvements, a lack of investment, streets and utilities in poor condition or they can lack streets and utilities altogether.”

The area that will be the focus of this URD has properties that are undeveloped or underdeveloped, Marks said, and it also lacks sufficient transportation infrastructure.

Initially, the city will collect about $15,000 in increased revenue diverted from overlapping taxing districts, which include the Lebanon Fire District, 4-H Extension, Linn County, the Lebanon Aquatic Center, City of Lebanon, the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Education Service District, the Lebanon Community School District and Linn-Benton Community College. In 2044, the district will collect about $570,000.

School district funding will be affected, but the state school funding formula will replace much of the lost revenue for the district, Apken told the council.

The proposal will move to the Planning Commission at 6 p.m. on Oct. 17 for review, ensuring it complies with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

The city will present the plan to the Linn County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 6. The council will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Nov. 14.

It will take effect 30 days after approval. During that period it may be referred to voters if a sufficient number of signatures are obtained on a referral petition.

n Approved an ordinance amendment requiring an event permit for any public event that closes a street. A recent public event was not large enough to require an event permit. As a result, a street was closed but area businesses were not notified. The requirement for a permit will trigger notifications of adjacent businesses as well as the fire and police departments.

n Approved a contract with Udell Engineering to design a sewer line extension, the Westside Interceptor Wastewater Collection Line, for $174,000.

The existing Westside Interceptor has reached capacity, said Ron Whitlatch, engineering services director. The city has been constructing a new line in phases to the west of the existing line and is now in its fifth phase.

The proposed project will stretch from the intersection of Oak Street and Airway Road to the intersection of Walker Road and Stoltz Hill Road, a distance of 7,000 to 8,000 feet, depending on the final engineers estimate.

Initial estimates put the cost at $4 million to $5 million, Whitlatch said. The intent is to build as much as funding will allow. Currently, the city has $3.9 million available for the project.

n Renewed an intergovernmental agreement between Lebanon and the Linn County Juvenile Department to continue operating a peer court program, which has been in place since 2013.

n Approved an intergovernmental agreement with Linn County to collect a 3-percent transient room tax for the county. Under the agreement, the city will keep 5 percent of the revenue. Enforcement of the tax will fall to the county.