By Linda Kor
The house was packed Jan. 19 as the Joseph City Water Board convened in its office to discuss a topic that has struck a nerve with residents.
The issue involves the town’s transfer station, which provides sanitation service to residents, but experienced a loss of $13,700 in 2015, prompting board members to seek solutions that would soften the blow of a much needed rate increase.
The option under consideration by the board is to enter a contract with Waste Management to provide curb pick up of household trash, also allowing for a once a month transfer station dump of larger debris and weeds. Any additional services would require additional charges.
When members of the community heard about the possible contract, more than 40 people attended the meeting, concerned that a closure of the transfer station was imminent despite a survey of the community that reportedly showed two-thirds of the customers would prefer to keep the transfer station, even if it meant greater cost.
During the more than three-hour meeting, Board Chairman Andrew Bushman assured those present that no agreement had been entered into, but Waste Management officials had submitted a contract for consideration.
The town utilities include three departments, water, sewer and sanitation. Prior to 2014, the accounts from those departments were combined and the final figures indicated no loss. When it was required that the departments have separate accounting procedures, the books showed the transfer station operating at a loss. Bushman explained that the board was made aware in November 2014 that the sanitation department was losing approximately $1,000 per month as the costs to operate the station exceeded the amount of money paid for the service. After careful consideration, the rate was increased from $11 per month to $15 in November 2015.
While the increase covered the loss, it didn’t account for certain expenses that would be required, including purchasing environmental insurance that the transfer station now lacks, any upgrades to the station or employee wage increases. Calculations brought that cost to $19.06 per customer. Still to be included were the funds required to pay back $13,700 borrowed from the sewer department last year. Looking at a $20 or more cost per customer each month and the added costs of upkeep for the transfer station, the board approached area waste disposal services about submitting bids for services. Waste Management provided the lowest bid.
The offer by Waste Management included a monthly cost of $17 for each residence for the first year, with a tote and pickup provided, as well as a free truck load of solid waste to the landfill each month. Any additional trips would require an additional $10 charge. After the first year the cost would raise to $18, in the third year to $19, and years four and five would require a three percent increase. The company would also provide a large bin twice a year free of charge for community clean-ups.
A majority of the residents present at the meeting were in support of keeping the transfer station open, regardless of the additional cost, citing concerns over the loss of control of services, the freedom to determine when to use the transfer station and even the sentimentality of being able to go to the dump.
Bushman explained that in his perception, allowing Waste Management to provide the service would take a tremendous burden off of the town, as the site lacks environmental insurance and would need upgrades. “The land is owned by the county, so we’d end up putting thousands of dollars we don’t have into land that we don’t own,” he said.
He also expressed his concern that commercial customers such as the school district, Love’s Truck Stop and the LDS church were being charged for trash services that they aren’t utilizing. “I would personally drop off those customers, because it’s wrong to bill for services that aren’t being used,” said Bushman.
Many of those present were reluctant to consider a contract with an outside company, worried that prices could sky-rocket even though Shawn Tebbe, a representative of Waste Management, assured them that contracts would control the prices and the town could always switch to another company once the contract was filled.
Resident Greg Fish explained his concerns over a large company taking over services. “My issue is that we’re talking a monopoly involving a big corporation. I’m thankful that Waste Management has its business here. I hope our community can support them, but we’ve paid a lot more in other places and I’m fine with increasing the cost to keep it open,” he said.
“My point is liberty. We have an opportunity to go to the dump at our leisure. It’s my choice however much I want. We have a lot more choice governing ourselves. I like the freedom to dictate how to dispose of my garbage,” stated Fish.
That opinion was echoed by his wife, Cayla Fish: “If we keep the transfer station we can raise the rates to address what needs to be taken care of, but then perhaps we can lower them later. They can ebb and flow, and that won’t happen with a large company in charge.”
The Fishes also expressed concern regarding potential mismanagement of funds, causing one board member to take offense over the suggestion.
Other residents expressed concern that curbside pick up would result in loose trash on the streets, to which board member Tim Poudrier replied, “Wind is a fact of life here. Holbrook has wind and Winslow has wind, and they both have curb service. We have good neighbors here and I like to think if those neighbors saw trash in the street, they’d pick it up,” he said.
Tebbe assured those present that Waste Management is not attempting to monopolize the residents. “We’re just trying to help out, honestly. We’re offering this service at a lower cost than we can in other areas because the landfill is here. We don’t have to drive 60 miles. Either way, we still have a contract with the town,” he said, referring to the $57,693 the town paid Waste Management to transport the trash from the transfer station to the landfill just over a mile away.
Nella Carlisle stated that for her, it was loading her trash in her dad’s old pickup and taking her dog with her to the dump that she would miss. “It’s what we’re used to and change is hard. I would love to pay more if we could keep the dump,” she said.
The board has set the first of May as the time when a final decision will be made as to whether the landfill will remain open. Bushman noted that more meetings will be held and that as board members, they welcome public input to help determine their decision.
By Linda Kor