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Council adopts increased fees for trash collection; continuing alley pickup possible

| June 29, 2022 1:00 AM

Whitefish residents will see their monthly fee for garbage service rise from its current rate of $10.78 to $17.25 along with the arrival of new bear-resistant containers. Republic Services has raised its rates by $5.96 and the city’s administrative fee increased by 51 cents.

Whitefish City Council approved a resolution adopting new fees for solid waste disposal services at a meeting on June 20. During that meeting, council also learned that Republic Services is willing to work with the city to continue alley service for some even after the new animal-resistant containers are in use.

For several years, the City of Whitefish has been working with Republic Services and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to identify solutions to minimize bear attractants in Whitefish and reduce the risk of human and bear conflicts. All parties identify the primary bear attractant in Whitefish to be unsecured garbage, which has been the focus of the discussions.

At a city council work session on March 7, 2022 staff was directed to proceed with negotiating an amendment to the current agreement with Republic Services to update rates, extend the term of the agreement, and require animal-resistant containers.

That amendment was approved by the council on May 2 and includes 95-gallon containers for all residential accounts with no purchase or delivery fees. The term of the contract is 10 years with an annual rate increase of 3.25%.

The change to the individual containers meant a change in the way they were to be serviced because of logistics and the limitations of the alleys. Customers accustomed to using 300-gallon alley containers would now have to move a 95-gallon, individual container to the curb each week.

For weeks after the new contract was signed, several members of the public voiced their concerns about the change in garbage pickup. Most of the complaints came from ‘The Avenues’ section of town where the houses do not have driveways or an easy way to move a container to the curb.

According to the city, the primary contention is that those who do not have streetside driveways will have considerable problems getting their containers out to the curb, especially during the winter. Additionally, there are also legitimate concerns about parking preventing Republic from being able to provide curbside service.

“I was able to meet with Republic Services. We looked at alley conditions throughout town. Republic drivers do currently have quite a few challenges to deal with even with the 300-gallon containers… it's definitely going to get more difficult for them,” said Whitefish Public Works Director Craig Workman. ”All that said, Republic does acknowledge the public pressure that we’re under… and they are willing to work with us to maintain alley service for customers that are currently provided alley service.”

The city says it is going to take some very strict guidelines that will be heavily enforced in order for the continuation of alley services. Workman said he has begun working with Republic Services to create the necessary guidelines.

“There is going to be a fairly robust education campaign to make sure we can maintain alley service,” said Workman.

The new monthly residential fee for garbage service will be $17.25 which includes the increase in cost from Republic and a $1.50 administrative fee from the city. City Manager Dana Smith said the administrative fee is used to cover wages, software increases for using utility billing software and increasing costs for postage and mailing.

“We haven’t raised rates for two years for garbage services and Republic has passed on a 3% raise each year. They’ve eaten into our administrative costs… so we are recouping that loss,” Smith said.

Councilor Steve Qunell voiced his concern for the increase in fees and how it may affect Whitefish residents.

“When we originally looked at this, the number was $15.75, which was already a significant increase,” Qunell said. “…it’s easy for some people to absorb these costs but it’s not easy for everyone.”

Smith explained that the administrative fee was not included when the city initially presented the rates to council because they didn’t know where the administrative fee increase would go and offered a bit of perspective by reminding council that residents will see a $40 decrease in property taxes that will help offset the increases in utility bills.

The transition period to bear-resistant containers is expected to last until the end of August 2022.

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