Panned by voters on a proposed payroll tax, the regional Metro agency is trying to raise money elsewhere — by raising the tipping fee to dispose of garbage in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.
The mid-year timing of the proposed $9-a-ton hike — which has not yet been publicly announced — is irregular. Normally, such hikes are carried out in conjunction with the regular budget and put into place July 1.
Few were willing to talk about it publicly, but much as with the failed transportation measure, the fee hike has raised concerns that the timing is wrong. Individual haulers, who've put their normal collection policies on hold to continue service for pandemic-battered families and businesses, have taken a financial beating. Cities and counties, meanwhile, will have to disrupt their own budget cycles and raise garbage pickup fees on residents — 60 cents a month for an average household with a 35-gallon can, according to Metro.
Metro officials, however, say the move is necessary to cover the agency's losses. With the economy slumping, transfer stations are operating at a fraction of capacity and revenue is down. And costs of the solid waste and recycling system are largely fixed, officials say.
"We recognize that this is really a terrible time for any fees to go up," said Brian Kennedy, Metro's chief financial officer. "But the garbage recycling system is an essential service for residents of the region, maybe even more so at this particular time in our history. We have an obligation to continue providing those services to protect public health and safety, and the environment."
The fee hike will help cover the agency's losses. Kennedy said the agency is employing a "balanced approach" that includes not just a rate increase, but budget reductions and spending down reserves by $7 million over the course of this year. As of July 1, reserves for the system were about $50 million.
Earlier this year Metro didn't raise the tipping fee, leaving it at $98.35 a ton. The mid-year hike still won't cover all losses, so Metro plans to raise fees again next July.
Out of each tipping fee, an excise tax of $12.47 per ton goes to fund general-purpose spending at the agency — which has been in a budgetary tailspin this year. In late March the agency announced it was laying off 40 percent of its employees, mainly due to closing the Convention Center and Oregon Zoo.
That excise fee would not go up under the new proposal. According to a Metro spokesman, "Local governments work with haulers to set the garbage and recycling collection rates for homes and businesses ... Anyone experiencing financial hardship can contact their hauler or local government to find out if they offer payment plan options."
The Oregon Refuse & Recycling Association declined to comment on the hike. However, after this article was posted online, the city of Hillsboro supplied a comment attributed to Peter Brandom, the city's senior project manager who works with solid waste, suggesting the rate hike was not well-known.
"We were surprised to learn about this rate increase, which directly impacts ratepayers in Hillsboro, from the Portland Tribune's reporting, rather than learning about it from our partners at Metro."
Metro staff are expected to unveil the details of the proposed rate increase in a staff report soon. A vote of the Metro Council is scheduled for Dec. 3.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.