SANDPOINT — Bonner County landowners will be biting the bullet in order to fund $8 million in capital improvements to the county’s solid waste infrastructure.
County commissioners unanimously approved a series of solid waste fee hikes on Wednesday to make improvements to solid waste collection sites at Colburn, Dufort, Dickensheet and Idaho Hill.
Under the new fee structure, county residents will see their annual solid waste fee increase from $115 to $180 on Oct. 1.
The 60-percent increase found few supporters during Wednesday’s public hearing, which was required because the rate increase exceeded 5 percent.
Landowners objected to a fee increase in light of decreased hours of service at sites and the closure of sites such as the 11 Mile facility on Highway 57 north of Priest River.
“There is a 60-percent increase, which seems exorbitant to me,” said Dover resident Steve Barton. “It’s really hitting a lot of us on a fixed income.”
Bonner County resident Kim Souza agreed.
“I have to scrape by just to make property taxes. We just live paycheck to paycheck,” she told commissioners.
Other landowners asked if they could opt out of the solid waste fee and pay to dump their refuse on an as-needed basis rather than pay a flat fee. Others also questioned whether the county had done enough to wring out efficiencies and revenue out of solid waste operations.
“Solid waste is running at a loss because of the increased costs of transportation,” said Commissioner Dan McDonald.
All of Bonner County’s solid waste is trucked to the Columbia Ridge landfill in Arlington, Ore.
Commissioners said the lack of political will of previous boards to address infrastructure needs caused them to pile up, particularly at Colburn.
“We’re about 20 years behind where we should be,” said McDonald.
The consultant hired to take a hard look at the solid waste system’s shortcomings recommended a gradual fee increase to cover the capital improvements, but commissioners opted for the higher increase because construction costs will only increase with the passage of time.
“The needs are so great that we should do this as quickly as possible,” added commission Chairman Jeff Connolly.
Commissioners considered the idea of installing scales so users are charged by the pound, but said it would lead to fewer collection sites across the county. The board also emphasized that it has been studying this matter for two years in an attempt to dispel the notion that it rubber-stamped an overly ambitious plan with little or no thought.
Commissioners also made it a point to acknowledge that they appreciated the public’s concerns, although some landowners began drifting out of the hearing when it became clear that the board was intent on adopting the increase.
Commissioner Steven Bradshaw said the 60-percent increase looks more harrowing than it actually is.
“We’re talkin’ $1.34 a week,” he said.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.