The Ashland City Council has approved an 8 percent garbage rate increase that will go into effect in January, costing the average residential customer an extra $1.43 per month.
But in approving the increase Tuesday night, the council also voted to form a committee that will look at garbage and recycling services that could be trimmed, as well as ways that Recology Ashland Sanitary Service could become more efficient.
The company has a franchise agreement to provide garbage and recycling services in Ashland.
In December 2011, the company — which said its Ashland operation was a money-loser — proposed a 23 percent rate hike.
Councilors approved an average 11 percent rate increase that went into effect for 2012 and commissioned an independent study of the company's operations and finances.
The 11 percent increase allowed the company to break even but not earn any profit.
The study found that Recology is entitled to the additional 8 percent increase to have a profit margin that is typical in the industry.
Typical profit margins are 4 percent to 6 percent, according to Recology.
The study also found there are inefficiencies in the way the company provides services.
According to the study, a recycling depot on Water Street is expensive to run, but collects only a tiny fraction of recyclables in town. Most people set out their recyclables for curbside pickup.
Recology also loses money on its yellow bag and sticker program for customers who generate little garbage and use the bags and stickers for on-demand garbage pickup.
Other customers are subsidizing the money-losing operations.
San Francisco-based Recology inherited the hodge-podge of services when it bought out locally based Ashland Sanitary Service several years ago.
"Some of these services are quite expensive and have the effect of literally driving up every garbage bill in the city," said City Administrator Dave Kanner, noting that Ashland is long past due for a thorough review of garbage and recycling services.
Councilors Carol Voisin, Dennis Slattery, Greg Lemhouse, Pam Marsh and Mike Morris voted in favor of the 8 percent rate increase along with the creation of a committee to look at garbage and recycling issues.
Councilor Russ Silbiger voted against the increase.
He noted that customers are paying an average of $1.77 each per month for the recycling depot on Water Street, while the rate increase is $1.43 per month for the average residential user.
Silbiger said the recycling depot is no longer needed in an era of curb-side pick-up of recyclables.
"We're paying $1.77 for something we don't need to be paying $1.77 for," Silbiger said. "My math says, 'No.'"
Lemhouse said he was reluctant to immediately close down the depot before the committee has a chance to examine the entire spectrum of garbage and recycling services.
The recycling depot collects recyclables, but also serves as a spot for pet adoptions and other community events.
"We need to find a better way of doing business," Lemhouse said.
According to the study, Recology also uses a costly mix of manual dumping of waste containers plus automated dumping with garbage trucks that have mechanical arms.
While many communities have transitioned to mechanical pick-up of waste, Ashland faces many challenges in moving to a fully automated system, according to Recology workers.
For example, many Ashland streets remain clogged with parked cars from tourists, workers and residents during the day, making it impossible for garbage trucks with mechanical arms to reach waste containers, according to Recology workers.
Recology has proposed possibly investing in semi-automated garbage trucks, in which workers can park in the street, pull containers out to the arms, then mechanically dump the trash.
Many residents don't have the special waste containers that are used in automated pick-up systems and some streets and alleys are too narrow to accommodate garbage trucks, among other issues.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.