Fee increases create hardship for city department | CraigDailyPress.com

Fee increases create hardship for city department

Christina M. Currie

Increased landfill fees are one of the reasons the city’s solid waste fund is budgeted to end 2004 in a $90,000 deficit, but officials say there’s significant reserve to pull that fund through.

The city is in the middle of its budget process for 2004. Officials will meet Friday for a daylong workshop to discuss it in detail.

The solid waste fund is an enterprise fund, which means it operates solely on the fees collected. Though in hard times, tax dollars have been used to offset costs, which hasn’t been the case in nearly 16 years, said department Supervisor Randy Call.

And that won’t be the case in 2004.

The fund will end this year with nearly $450,000 in reserves and is expected to end 2004 with a $274,000 reserve.

No major equipment purchases are planned for 2004, which will help maintain the reserve, which fluctuates based on those major purchases.

“Those reserve funds go up and down based on our vehicle replacement needs,” City Manager Jim Ferree said.

The county, owners of the landfill, raised rates from $16 a ton to $22.50 a ton in March, which meant an unbudgeted increase of about $30,000 for solid waste expenditures.

“We’re hauling more trash, so it’s impacting us more,” Call said.

Revenues are up and city Finance Office Bruce Nelson is predicting that 2003 will end with 8 percent more revenue from customer fees.

But, the increasing customer base makes it hard to predict what the city will need in 2004 for landfill fees.

“We’re going into this now hoping the county will not raise rates,” Call said.

He said there’s been no indication that’s in the county’s plans for 2004.

The biggest impact was two to three years ago when the city went from dumping its trash for free to paying $16 a ton. Customer rates increased at that point.

Call said he’s willing to dip into reserves for a year to determine the long-term impact of the landfill fee increase and to avoid raising rates.

Prior to the last increase, the city was collecting more in fees than it was paying at the landfill, and officials had discussed a fee reduction.

“We’re trying to give the people the best bang for their buck,” Call said. “We’re not trying to make a profit.”

Now, Call said he’ll need to look at the numbers for 2004 to see if a rate increase may be necessary in 2005.

“Until the end of 2004, I won’t know what’s up,” he said. “It’s hard to know what to do when you get slapped with an increase in the middle of the year. We can’t dip into reserves forever.”

Call budgeted to pay $150,000 in landfill fees this year. In July, he modified that expense and increased it to $200,000. The city is budgeting to spend $216,000 in 2004, a 44 percent increase over what was expected in 2003.

Fees in 2001 were $129,000.

Predicting expenditures is difficult, Call said, because he doesn’t know how many tons of trash the department’s going to haul.

“We’re just hoping revenues continue to climb,” he said.

He said he and his crew are ready for a lean year.

“Garbage guys are the best,” he said. “They’ve made this department what it is. I have to give them a pat on the back.”

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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