Port Townsend approves 10-year solid waste contract with higher fees

Council also increases stormwater surcharge

PORT TOWNSEND — City residents will have solid waste services for the next 10 years, but it will come at an increased cost.

The Port Townsend City Council approved a 10-year contract Monday night with Murrey’s Disposal Company that will go into effect next year.

The council also passed an increase in its monthly stormwater surcharge, doubling it to $6 per month effective July 1.

While the solid waste ordinance passed unanimously, council member Robert Gray’s was the lone dissenting vote to increase the stormwater surcharge.

Gray cited surcharges in other areas such as wastewater treatment and sewer, and he asked about the possibility of sunsetting certain ones.

“Is there an ending point to these surcharges?” he asked.

Gray said his water bill in 2012 was $70 per month and it’s now up to $152. He combined that with his electric and solid waste bills and said it’s becoming too much.

“You take those three necessities of life, you’re talking about $300 per month,” Gray said. “It just seems like, at 300 bucks a month, we should be talking at some point about leveling this thing off or reducing the rate.

“It’s the families with children who are going to be hit harder on this.”

Council member David Faber agreed, although he voted for the increase.

“Wages have been stagnant and expenses are up,” Faber said. “I think that’s something we should look at in terms of the utility taxes when we have that large general-fund haircut taken out of our budget.”

Faber referred to the city’s annexation into the East Jefferson Fire-Rescue (EJFR) service territory and the one-time $298,000 adjustment it will pay EJFR to equalize levy rates in the fire district.

The city will hold off on collecting its property tax levy until 2021 and phase it back in, with one-third in 2021, two-thirds in 2022 and the entire amount in 2023. When that occurs, those funds can be earmarked for certain uses, including utility tax relief.

Concerning the stormwater surcharge, Mayor Deborah Stinson said: “We cannot make a profit, but we have to cover our expenses. Here, we do break out both the surcharge and the utility rate so people can see it.”

Those funds pay for stormwater-related projects, said Nora Mitchell, the city’s finance and administrative services director.

Council member Ariel Speser also voted to approve, with reservations.

“There’s no satisfying answer here tonight,” she said. “Everybody is affected by it, and it keeps getting harder and harder.

“When we raise the rates, other people turn to social services.”

Yet the aging systems need to be improved, council member Pamela Adams said.

“We need to move forward with the screamingly needed infrastructure that we’re voting on tonight,” Adams said.

With solid waste, residents will have options for 32- , 64- and 96-gallon containers. Each will have their own rate for bimonthly pickup.

The rate for a 32-gallon container, the most popular among residents, will increase from $10.66 per month to $18.43 per month. Both figures are before taxes.

The solid waste contract will go into effect April 1, 2020. It includes new trucks, fewer routes, new garbage and yard waste containers as well as a source-separated recycling system.

The city went out for bid and only received a proposal from Murrey’s Disposal. Its other option was to use a service contracted by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, which was twice as expensive at $34.50 per month, city Public Works Director Greg Lanning said.

Council member Michelle Sandoval said approving both ordinances was difficult but the right thing to do.

“One of the most difficult things about sitting in the seats that we sit in is the fact that we’re supposed to be fiscally responsible for the city, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that we get to only vote with our heart but, rather, making sure that it goes through the proper finance vetting, both with our finance director as well as our finance committee,” Sandoval said.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

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