Responding to inflationary pressures while aiming to fully serve the city, Kalispell is considering a potential increase in its garbage collection rates.
Residences now pay $111 per year for garbage collection. The city is exploring options that could raise that rate to $37 per year.
The last time the city’s solid waste rates, which are collected through property assessments, were increased was in 2011 and it was $3 a year.
Mayor Mark Johnson said planning for the future is important to ensure city operations.
“We don’t like to do a rate hike, but we have to look long-term to make sure all funds are healthy and we have the reserves we need,” Johnson said.
The council held a working session on the garbage collection service last week.
The proposed rate increase comes after city staff began reviewing the solid waste service fund in preparation for the city’s fiscal year 2023 budget. Staff have found that the revenue generated from the current contribution rates will not sustain the current level of service beyond the next fiscal year. Additionally, service capabilities are approaching the point where personnel and equipment can no longer support additional residential and commercial accounts.
City Manager Doug Russell said that about five years ago the solid waste department began rehabilitating its equipment, which extended its life, but now the city is facing an increase in 30% of equipment costs due to inflation.
“What’s happened is that equipment prices have gone up dramatically in the last year and the department is very equipment heavy, so those inflationary costs are having a big impact,” Russell said. .
In addition, the city wishes to increase its garbage collection capacity for the number of residences it serves. For commercial and residential containers, the city currently has the capacity to service approximately 6,000 units and would like to increase this to 8,400.
“It’s trying to do an advantage for the people of our town,” Russell said. “One of the advantages of being in town is to have a service offer.”
TWO rate adjustment OPTIONS were presented to the Board during the meeting — one would implement a 30% rate increase in the first year and the other would spread the same percentage increase over four years.
In the option that would implement the full increase in the first year, garbage rates would increase from the current rate of $111 per year to $144, for a total increase of $33.
In the other staggered increase option, the rate would increase by $17 in the first year, $6 in the second and $7 in the third and fourth years, for a total increase of $37 per year.
The Council seems to favor the option which spreads the increase in costs over several years, but will still have to vote formally on the question. Council is expected to hold a public hearing on the rate change this summer before a vote.
Johnson said it would be best to spread out the costs.
“In relative terms, it’s not a lot, but when you’re trying to budget for fixed income, a little bit makes a difference,” he said.
Commercial tariffs would also increase. Under the full first year increase, commercial rates, which are split into two different tiers, would increase from the current rate of $338 per year to $439. For those paying $411 now, the cost would rise to $534.
Under the multi-year cost option, the commercial rates would increase to $449 and $548.
THE CITY provides garbage collection to approximately 530 commercial properties and approximately 5,600 residential properties.
In 2021, the city collected and hauled 10,852 tons of trash to the Flathead County landfill. This represents an increase from the amount collected the previous year of 10,294 tonnes and 10,475 tonnes collected in 2019. The increase in tonnage last year is attributed to new residential accounts and an increase in waste collected during clean-up routine of the alleys.
Director of Public Works Susie Turner said the two main things the city needs to provide solid waste service are staff and equipment and the city is now facing steep increases in equipment costs. . The last time the city purchased a side-arm garbage truck, which serves residential areas, the cost was $276,000. The new trucks are estimated at $450,000.
“It is imperative that we have reliable equipment to collect our solid waste for our customers,” she said. “We have an active fleet of trucks that go out daily and then a backup fleet that is used when the active fleet is under repair. These repairs can sometimes take a day, a week or a month.
If a higher residential rate is approved, Kalispell at $148 per year would still be lower than the other two municipalities in the county — Whitefish’s rate is $200 and Columbia Falls’ rate is $220.
SOME PROPERTIES within the city limits pay for private garbage service through Evergreen Disposal. Homeowners can choose to use the municipal service or Evergreen.
The city currently serves approximately 5,600 residential units for garbage service. Those that use Evergreen as well as vacant land but may require service at some point total approximately 1,200 residential units.
In terms of long-term planning, Turner said she would like to see the city increase its residential collection capacity.
“Our limiting factor right now in serving more areas is trucks and personnel,” Turner said. “The only thing holding us back from moving into new areas is the expectation we place on ourselves to provide service. We want to make sure we have the personnel and the reliable equipment to serve these areas.
By adding equipment and staff, the city estimates it could serve about 3,000 additional residential customers. That would leave about 2,300 units still using Evergreen Disposal, which the city says is the estimated number of customers who would likely still choose to use the private service.
While the retail portion is at capacity, Turner said the priority is to add residential collections.
In addition to collecting household waste in bins, the city’s solid waste department also performs driveway cleaning five days a week collecting bagged yard waste, appliances, furniture, bundled brushes and mattresses. In areas with rolling containers, the city also conducts an annual collection of large items.
As part of the budget process, the public works department proposes to create a business plan for the solid waste department that would review future operations and analyze collection rates.
Solid waste collection in Kalispell began in the 1920s with a wagon and two garbage carts serving a 2-mile area, the city notes.
Managing Editor Heidi Desch can be reached at 758-4421 or [email protected]