Highland City Council unanimouslyvoted on Tuesday, June 22, to approve annual rate adjustments for residential and commercial refuse collection that raised the base residential trash collection rate from $28.30 to $29.64 a month and the commercial rate for a 3-yard dumpster from $237.17 to $260.48.
The adjusted rates go into effect on July 1 and represent a 4.73 percent increase for the residential and senior rates. The commercial rate increased by 9.83 percent, which is down from last year’s 13 percent increase.
The new residential rate remains below the average of $29.80 of 13 neighboring cities. Seven of those cities have rates higher than Highland.
According to city staff and Burrtec Waste, which has a franchise agreement for the city’s solid waste services, the residential increases are related solely to increases in tonnage collected, increases in dumping and disposal fees and rising recycling costs due to a difficult recycling market.
According to Highland Public Services Manager Melissa Morgan, during the coronavirus pandemic refuse collection increased by approximately 5 pounds per household per week and recycling increased approximately 3 pounds per household per week. These increases were attributed to residents spending more time at home and making more of their purchases online.
Burrtec opted for forego the solid waste franchise agreement’s annual 2.5 percent CPI increase for the residential rate. The commercial rate adjustment includes the annual CPI increase.
“We are very aware of the issues, especially with COVID, faced this past year, and that is why we are foregoing all of our particular increases this year,” said Michael Arreguin, Burrtec vice president. “The only thing that is being passed on is disposal-processing costs. If it costs us a dollar more to dump trash all we are asking is to collect that dollar.”
Some of these rising costs relate to state restrictions on the dumping of organic waste, which now has to be delivered to a green waste facility at an added cost.
Since the city’s initial approval of the 20-year franchise agreement with Burrtec for Highland’s solid waste services, the city council has had to defend the agreement at each year’s rate adjustment public hearing.
This year 13 letters of protest and one speaker, former councilwoman and mayor Jody Scott, opposed the rate increases and the city’s use of a franchise agreement for solid waste services.
Scott protested the agreements’ collection of the refuse collection fees through the property tax roll and described the agreement as a 20-year monopoly.
Mayor Penny Lilburn defended the agreement by pointing out that it provides at no extra charge many time and cost consuming services that were previously handled by the city. The agreement also funded an additional code enforcement officer for the city.
In particular she pointed out Burrtec’s bulky item and illegal dumping pick-ups. According to Morgan, Burrtec makes pick-ups at at least 200 locations a month. This no-extra-charge service greatly contributes to the cleanliness of the city, saves city staff hours and is a great quality of life benefit to residents, Lilburn said.
Lilburn also pointed out that, although Burrtec has a contract with the city, rate adjustments cannot be made without a public hearing and city council approval.
During discussion of the causes for the rate increases, Mayor Pro Tem Larry McCallon noted that state legislation, SB 1383, will mandate that all state residents separate food waste beginning 2022. This will require the addition of a fourth trash bin at residences and a fourth route for collection services.
“It will be a drastic impact to residential rates,” Morgan said. “And it is not something the city of Highland wants to do but has to do. It’s going to be a difficult program to implement.”
Morgan added that the city and Burrtec will begin a pilot program before the next fiscal year. The added costs related to food waste collection are still to be calculated and are expected to be included in the 2022 rate adjustment.