June 21, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 25

Dumpster cost rocks borough

Haines Borough officials are looking for ways to cut garbage expenses in the face of increased collection fees that have doubled or more in less than a year.

The borough paid Community Waste Solutions $4,094 for garbage removal at the boat harbor in May, more than four times the municipality’s bill of $952 in May 2011.

Harbormaster Phil Benner attributed the spike to increased rates, unauthorized use of dumpsters, and new fees for items such as oily waste, fiberglass and electronic devices. Also, harbor users aren’t taking advantage of a new, recycling station there, he said.

“If things keep going the way they are, we may have to charge fees for different kinds of regulated garbage,” Benner said.

“When you look at the price we’re paying (for disposal) doubling or tripling, or in this case (quadrupling), the price of that has to come out of somewhere… There’s only so much that a fat harbormaster jumping on top of the dumpster can do,” Benner said.

Another option is increased enforcement, including mounting cameras to watch for illicit use of dumpsters intended only for use by slip renters. In Juneau, the municipality spent $600,000 on a camera system for several harbors there.

“No one wants cameras, but sometimes that’s what you have to do. I don’t want to do it. I want people to do the right thing.”

As recently as a year ago, the borough was paying Community Waste Solutions up to $500 per month in the winter to empty two dumpsters at the harbor and $1,000 during busy summer months. Those rates climbed with an increase in dumpster fees in August, and another increase in January.

The private utility’s January rate revision included a less dramatic increase for separated garbage.

Dumpster rates also are an issue at the Haines School, where the district received an eye-popping bill of $9,100 for the months of February and March.

School district secretary Ashley Heinrich this week said the bill included trash from several basketball events, but only represented a fraction of the district’s total waste stream, as the school recycles and separates out cafeteria food scraps for its “Starvin’ Marvin” compost project.

The district has three, two-yard dumpsters but is looking at reducing that to two, she said. “It’s a problem we all have to brainstorm. We’re going to have to do something.”

In recent years the Haines Borough public library and Haines Borough offices shared a one-yard dumpster located between the buildings. But after a recent rate increase, the library opted out of the arrangement.

Librarian Patricia Brown said the library set up a monthly account with Community Waste Solutions competitor Acme Transfer. “We haul it ourselves. The staff was willing to do it, so we’re just all taking turns, just like we take turns picking up the mail.”

The switch has reduced the library garbage bill to one-third or less the amount paid under the former arrangement, Brown said.

Without the library’s trash, the borough discontinued the dumpster and now puts its refuse in a can, said chief financial officer Jila Stuart. “We only had one or two bags a week. We never used much. It was mostly the library.”

In fiscal year 2011, before the recent rate increases, the borough paid Community Waste Solutions $49,675 for solid waste disposal. The borough has budgeted $79,950 for the coming year. That projection includes several economizing changes such as emptying its own downtown garbage cans during the summer months instead of paying Community Waste Solutions to empty them, Stuart said.

Community Waste Solutions owner Tom Hall did not respond to a message left for him about dumpster rates this week.

The Haines Borough is investigating acquiring Community Waste Solutions’ state-issued certificate to collect trash in the townsite. The assembly has directed manager Mark Earnest to get an appraisal of its value.

The firm indicated at a meeting last winter that it may be interested in releasing the certificate in exchange for a long-term contract for pick-up with the borough. Such a contract would allow the company to secure financing and make needed improvements at its landfill site on FAA Road.

Borough assembly member Debra Schnabel said increasing fees mean the borough needs to pick up speed on resolving the waste issue.

Problems with dumpsters, and particularly their illicit use, aren’t unique to the borough, she said. Schnabel said that as landlord at the state-leased Gateway Building, she finds volumes of items in her building’s dumpster, including disposable diapers and pizza boxes, she doubts came from state offices. And she keeps the dumpster locked, she said.

“People who own dumpsters basically perform a public service,” she said.