SIERRA VISTA — Get ready to pay more for the garbage bill and other refuse you place by the curb, Sierra Vista city officials said Tuesday.
At their work session at City Hall, city council members discussed raising both the fees and rates residents pay for refuse services. The hikes are necessary in order for the city’s Refuse Enterprise Fund — which has been losing thousands of dollars for the last four years — to get back on its feet.
Rates for refuse services — the monthly bill all residents pay — will jump by 15 percent beginning in March; the fees for refuse services meanwhile — these are paid only by those residents who use specific refuse services such as dumpsters — will also climb, but increases will vary based on the service used by the individual.
City officials are also looking at privatizing recycling services, which could present another savings of just over $100,000.
If the city council approves the proposed refuse service fee and rate hikes at its regular meeting Thursday afternoon, the increases could generate over $765,000 in revenues, city officials said. That would be enough to make up for losses in both fiscal years 2019 and 2020.
A summary presented to council members before they vote on the fee and rate increases on Thursday outlines the issue: “The Refuse Fund has been operating at a deficit for the past four years due to environmental factors, such as changes to state laws regarding commercial refuse operations.
In fiscal year 2017, the City Council approved a 15 percent rate increase that helped decrease the annual loss in the fund.
“Unfortunately, additional fee and rate increases are needed to make the fund whole. Then proposed fee and 15 percent rate increase would generate an estimated $767,626 in revenues that would cover both FY19 and FY20 losses. By privatizing the recycling operations, the city would save an estimated $140,000 per year. The Green Waste program offers significant benefits to the system, especially the savings the system generated by diverting green waste from the landfill. Without the program, an estimated 25 percent to 30 percent rate increase would be required to make the fund whole due to the increased green waste landfill costs.”
At a previous work session earlier this year, Public Works Director Sharon Flissar told the council that revenues garnered by the current fee schedule for such services are not enough to sustain the financial needs of the Refuse Enterprise Fund. Flissar said that the fund is losing $150,000 annually in operating costs alone. Deputy City Manager Victoria Yarbrough said overall, the fund lost $439,507 in 2019.
Initially, only an increase in refuse service fees was proposed in order to place the Refuse Enterprise Fund back in the black. But because some of the proposed fee increases were steep, a couple of council members received complaints from the community.Councilwoman Carolyn Umphrey had asked several weeks ago that the item be tabled because she thought the fee increase was too high. Umphrey also said she wanted staff to better explain how raising fees would place the Refuse Enterprise Fund in the black.
Flissar recently said that because there was concern that the proposed fee increases were too high, city officials had to find another way to help put the Refuse Enterprise Fund back on track. So, a rate hike was proposed as well. City Manager Chuck Potucek also recently told council members that the refuse service rates could remain the same, but eventually that would have to have to change, and when it did, the increase could be even steeper.
At Tuesday’s work session, Umphrey said she could now “vote with my eyes wide open” after the proposed fee and rate increases were better laid out.
In other business at Tuesday’s session, council members also heard from a member of the Airport Commission regarding a proposal that could do away with that advisory board.
That issue is not on the City Council’s agenda for Thursday.