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Fee increase big reminder of garbage pickup reality

Lincoln County residents are likely in for a little surprisewhen garbage pickup fee notices go out next month.

For the first time since 2001, the monthly fee will beincreasing – but what an increase it is! Lincoln County supervisorslast week approved a 54 percent hike in the rate from $9.08 to $14a month.

County officials said the significant increase was needed tocover higher costs that garbage collection contractor WasteManagement enacted upon the county following contractrenegotiations in 2006.

A standard provision of garbage collection agreements allows thecontractor to up the fee it charges to the county due to cost ofliving adjustments for fuel and so forth – either on a yearly basisor when a new contract is developed. So increases in the contractorportion of the pickup equation are nothing new.

Like the property tax levy rate, though, elected officials areloath to increase user fees for services provided unless and untilabsolutely necessary. A fee increase for citizens was avoided lastyear thanks to use of an accumulated garbage fund cushion ofapproximately $750,000.

But relying on savings and avoiding smaller, gradual feeincreases to cover rising contract costs represents a politicallyexpedient move that will eventually catch up to governing officialsand customers in the form large one-time fee hike. The soaringprice of fuel appears to have caught the county, and supervisorsare now having to make the major fee adjustment that customers willsee in October.

With last year’s use of the significant fund cushion and adecision to raise the fees just enough to cover the actual contractcosts, officials warn that the county expects to have littlesurplus at the end of the year. That could signal the advent ofsmaller garbage fee increases if and when pickup contract costsrise in the future.

While many customers surely will not be happy about the garbagefee hike, supervisors did succeed in not putting the garbageexpense where it did not belong – on property owners.

Although the property tax levy is going up for other budgetaryreasons, the board avoided placing any tax levy millage for garbagecollection on property owners. Supervisors rightly realized thatdoing so would have placed a disproportionate share of the costs onproperty owners, while letting others in effect pay less for thesame service.

State law requires counties to pick up garbage, and that servicehas to be paid for by users. While customers have not seen anincrease in seven years, supervisors’ recent action soon will serveas a big reminder of that fiscal fact of life.