Wilsonville rates exceed those in Tualatin and Lake Oswego

A proposed increase in garbage and recycling collection rates in Wilsonville has run into resistance from city councilors who want to know why local residents are paying more for residential and commercial service than their counterparts in nearby cities.

Republic Services, which has contracted with the city of Wilsonville for 31 years to provide garbage and recycling collection, recently submitted the request for a 4 to 6 percent rate increase for customers, citing soaring fuel costs and falling prices for recyclable commodities, among other factors.

The request comes two years after the city approved a 2.7 percent rate increase in 2011.

“The last two years have seen some significant cost increases, as we’re all aware of, in this economic environment,” Derek Ruckman, Republic Services general manager, told the council during a June 17 public hearing. “A lot of things have been imposed on us in the last two years. We’ve had a $600,000 increase since 2011 in costs, and there are many points brought up that we are prepared to answer tonight. We wouldn’t be up here, quite frankly, asking for something we haven’t earned.”

But councilors were taken aback by a report prepared by city staff stating repeatedly that Republic Services has not yet demonstrated why a rate increase should be granted.

In the end, the council requested more answers than the company could provide, leading the public hearing to be continued until the council’s upcoming July 15 meeting.

Wilsonville pays higher rates

The city’s staff report does go on to ultimately recommend the council approve the increase. But this was brushed aside by councilors, who demanded to know why Republic Services charges Wilsonville customers a higher rate than neighboring Tualatin and Lake Oswego for all but a few collection services.

For example, Wilsonville residents currently pay $21 a month for collection of a 20-gallon can, compared with $18.89 a month for Tualatin and Lake Oswego residents.

Under the proposed rate hike, Wilsonville rates would climb to $21.84 a month.

On the other end of the scale, the largest commercial customers in Wilsonville pay $562.75 per month for collection of up to 8 cubic yards of solid waste, compared with $463.61 for businesses in Lake Oswego and Tualatin.

Ruckman said comparing markets like Lake Oswego, with 11,000 residential customers, to Wilsonville, with its 3,700 customers, is like “apples and oranges.” The larger number of customers in Lake Oswego, he said, keeps down the average cost per customer, allowing for lower rates.

And when it comes to industrial billing, he said, the cost of hauling and disposing of solid waste is substantially higher than for residential waste.

That did not go far enough for Mayor Tim Knapp and others, however. Knapp led a chorus of voices in demanding that Republic Services do a better job of explaining the need for an increase prior to going to the public with a formal request.

Knapp also noted that Wilsonville and the South Metro Area Transit agency have been “aggressively” moving toward vehicles powered by compressed natural gas and other alternative fuels and asked why Republic Services has not done the same.

“It seems like it’s a little easy to sit on a guaranteed rate of return,” Knapp said. “But I feel like it’s not what the public expects from us as a city. I think we need to do better than that, and I’m wondering why we haven’t been. I share councilor (Scott) Starr’s concern that it just does not seem intuitive to say Wilsonville should be more expensive in all these categories. In many of them we are more expensive, and I do not see the logic in that.”

Knapp went on to criticize the request at length, calling the package of documents submitted to the city “not ready for primetime.”

“I think there are far too many questions for you to come forward,” he said. “It’s very complicated and unclear, and you say, ‘I want to explain it to you,’ well, your application should do that in the first place. For me, I think it’s premature. I don’t think you’re ready. I don’t think the document in front of me lays out adequately what you’re proposing.”

The timing of a rate increase, should it be approved, is also being disputed. City staff wishes to see any increase take effect Sept. 1 to coincide with a planned increase in a tipping fee imposed by Metro.

Republic Services originally requested a July 1 date for the increase to take effect, something that now will not happen.

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