In addition to tentatively supporting a new tax on property within the county road and bridge department’s jurisdiction, the Idaho County commissioners last Tuesday, July 25, raised the prospect of raising county solid waste fees by five percent for the coming year.
Doing so would bump the fee owners of property inside city limits pay the county from $13.80 per year to $14.49 per year -- and commission chairman Skip Brandt noted that while the board could raise the fee much more than that, increasing the fee more than 5 percent would require a public hearing.
“Do you want to rent the high school gym now or later?” commission chairman Skip Brandt asked Commissioner Mark Frei.
The fee aims to cover the cost to the county that follows from city residents using dumpsters outside city limits, such as at the Fairview site.
Frei had suggested the county should raise the city residential fee from $13.80 per year to $30 per year. In Grangeville, residents pay the city’s garbage pick-up fee of $19.52 per month, so Grangeville residents currently pay the city and county a total of about $248 per year for solid waste services. So the county fee increase would nudge Grangeville residents’ garbage costs about 6.5 percent higher – if the city holds its fee flat.
In discussion, Frei noted the county’s existing fee structure leaves the county’s solid waste fund short about $100,000 annually – an amount that the commission then must cover using countywide property tax dollars.
“The point of our fee is to pay for the solid waste,” Frei said. “I say we just set a hearing and put the fees where they need to be to cover the expenses.”
To cover the whole difference, the county board is also considering hikes across the other major solid waste fee categories, including the one to which the ag solid waste fee is tied. During the discussion, the commissioners considered raising the commercial solid waste fee from $397.44 per year to $430 per year, and the part-time/residential/ag fee amount from $198.72 per year to $215.
Brandt pointed out that deferring a fee hike to a future year and covering the $100,000 difference between the system’s costs and revenues with property tax would potentially shield some property owners – those under the state’s “circuit breaker” protection – from the full weight of the system’s rising costs.
The county budgeted more than $1.5 million for solid waste in 2016, and budgeted more than $1.6 million in 2017. The commissioners are anticipating solid waste will total more than $1.7 million next year.
For those who own multiple pieces of property, the solid waste fees can stack up quickly.
Ray Payton and his wife, Kay, of Riggins are two of the many Idaho County seniors who pay more than one solid waste fee.
“We have 43 acres here that we bought in 1992 as undeveloped, raw land,” Payton told the Free Press Thursday, July 27. “We intended to build a single-family dwelling on it, which we did two years later. … Years later, when this issue about solid waste disposal came about, the commissioners just arbitrarily decided to charge each tax account an equal amount. It came out to $198-and-some-cents each account, and we end up paying twice that.”
When he wanted to borrow against it, Payton said banking rules forced the property to be split – with one parcel no bigger than 35 acres.
“The other parcel has nothing on it,” Payton said. “It’s raw pasture. It will never generate any garbage at all, but we have to pay $198 for it. I don’t feel like that’s fair.”
The fee that hits people like the Paytons more than once was established in 2014, and in 2015, the commission began an effort to reform the system around the idea that people should pay for the amount of garbage they personally produce. But plans for the reform have not yet become a reality, as key pieces have faced regulatory delays and higher costs.
Idaho County’s efforts toward establishing a five-county joint landfill in Council have not yet resolved one of the main questions: how favorably that facility might compare with the tipping fee Idaho County’s solid waste contractor has paid for disposal in Missoula. During the July 25 meeting, commissioner Denis Duman said the tipping fee at the joint landfill may top $32 per ton, compared to the $28 per ton it costs in Missoula.
Meanwhile, the county’s solid waste contractor, Simmons Sanitation, may have to contend with a new regulatory hurdle in the form of Department of Environmental Quality “guidance.” At issue is whether Simmons and similar outfits across the state may dispose of yard waste, tree branches and such on-site, or whether such refuse must also be hauled to landfills like Missoula’s. According to the July 20 Clearwater Progress, complying with the new DEQ guidance could add $50,000 to Simmons’ costs in Idaho County and another $50,000 in Lewis County. (The Free Press reported the guidance issue in February; at the time, Simmons told the commissioners the guidance issue could raise his costs by $110,000.)
The solid waste issue is not the only one pushing Idaho County commissioners to tap more from their constituents’ wallets during the coming fiscal year.
Earlier in the July 25 meeting, the commissioners leaned toward taxing more than $650,000 from property within the county road and bridge department’s jurisdiction – that is, property not within any of the highway districts in Idaho County. This tax would cost property owners under the road and bridge jurisdiction roughly $125 per $100,000, in addition to the taxes and fees that cover other county services – and it would still leave the road and bridge department far short of covering the loss of federal Secure Rural School funding.
The commission agenda calls for budget discussion to continue next week, with a formal budget proposal due to be published in the Free Press Aug. 9 or Aug. 16.