Wednesday | December 13, 2017
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Council panel advances double-digit tipping fee hike

The county is raising tipping fees at its landfills even more than previously considered.

The County Council Finance Committee on Monday advanced Bill 82, increasing the price haulers pay at the county’s Hilo and West Hawaii landfills by 36.4 percent throughout the next five years. Tipping fees were last raised in 2007.

“We have been the recipients of having to do things that should have been done 10 to 15 years ago,” said South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David, chairwoman of the Finance Committee.

The fee hike — 27 percent the first year — would most affect commercial customers, such as those with dumpsters including condominium dwellers, retail shops, grocery stores and other businesses. Small haulers who pick up curbside for residential customers will see a residential credit increase that should wipe out the tipping fee hike, officials said.

The committee voted 6-2 to send the bill to the council with a positive recommendation. It faces two more hearings by the council.

Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung and Kohala Councilman Tim Richards voted no. Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles was absent.

Chung said he’d rather hold off on increasing fees until after contract renegotiations with Waste Management Inc. planned for April. In addition, Chung and Richards said the county hasn’t proven the need for the increase.

“I don’t disagree that we need the funds here, but I’m also concerned about the bigger picture,” Richards said.

The action came despite the objections of Steven Araujo, owner of D&D Rubbish Service in Kurtistown. He said the tipping fees were originally supposed to help alleviate the burden of the program, not pay for it.

“Everybody pays for it. There’s a domino effect that happens,” Araujo said outside the meeting. “We pass the fees onto the customers, especially the commercial guys. Don’t the stores then increase their prices?”

The first fee hike, from $85 per ton to $108 per ton, will go into effect July 1, as the county closes the Hilo landfill and sends all the island’s waste to the West Hawaii landfill at Puuanahulu. The original plan was to raise it to $101 per ton.

“I didn’t want to take more than I would need, but unfortunately, what I needed was more than I thought,” said Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski.

After that, prices will increase by $2 a ton each year until 2022, when it will be $116 per ton. It will take County Council action after that to raise it further.

Dumping refuse at the county’s 22 transfer stations will remain free for residents, Kucharski said. He said 42 percent of the costs of solid waste are picked up by the county’s general fund, paid primarily by property taxes.

Kucharski said the county’s cost of dumping garbage will increase by $2 million next year because of the extra trash that will be sent with the closing of the Hilo landfill in November to the West Hawaii landfill, which is operated by Waste Management Inc. The county owns the Hilo landfill.

The increase in tipping fees brings the county’s disposal costs from $6.7 million to $8.7 million. Operating expenses for the Solid Waste Division are estimated at $11.4 million, green waste costs at $7 million and other costs such as equipment at $4.4 million, according to information provided by the department.

About $20 million comes from the general fund and private haulers pay $9.2 million in tipping fees.

Without the increase, reductions would have to be made in programs such as household hazardous waste, outreach and education, reuse facilities, two-bin recycling, electronic waste and scrap metal, Kucharski said.

“The programs we would have to remove are pretty onerous,” Kucharski said. “That’s not something that we want to do.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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