Schools may face big increase in garbage fees

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An assessment method that substantially undercharges local school districts for their garbage disposal fees has prompted the Flathead County Solid Waste District to propose a new assessment that would double or triple the cost for many districts.

For decades public and private schools in the county have been charged an annual assessment for their garbage that was determined by adding the number of school staff and students, dividing that number by 50, then multiplying the divided number by the landfill assessment rate of $80.73 per unit.

“What they’re being assessed is not what they should be paying,” Landfill Operations Manager Jim Chilton explained to the county commissioners last week. “The schools are not paying their fair share. We’re trying to get it… so it’s fair across the board.”

Currently the school districts collectively pay $34,805 annually, while the proposed assessment would be around $83,607, Chilton said.

The Solid Waste District intends to charge schools based on their actual waste generation. The proposed assessment will calculate a school’s annual fee by dividing the total yardage of waste produced annually by 20 cubic yards per unit. That calculation will be multiplied by the $80.73 per unit assessment rate.

County Public Works Director Dave Prunty said landfill records don’t indicate when or why the current assessment method was set up. The landfill office administrator who handles the assessment paperwork brought it to the attention of Prunty and Chilton.

“It was on the radar because they [the school districts] are the only ones charged that way,” Prunty said.

The Solid Waste District board, which last month recommended approval of the proposed assessment method, has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal at 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at the Solid Waste District office at the landfill, 4098 U.S. 93 N.

A letter explaining the proposed assessment method will be sent out to schools in the coming week or so, according to Prunty.

Using the proposed assessment, Kalispell School District 5’s annual garbage collection fees would roughly triple, from $10,854 to about $30,734. While the district has been assessed one annual fee for all Kalispell schools, the proposal itemizes the estimated annual fee by individual schools within a district, based on their current amount of garbage generated.

Flathead High School, for example, should be paying $8,312 a year based on the actual garbage generated, according to a Solid Waste District garbage generation chart. Glacier High, which has a garbage compactor, is listed at $80.73, the fee for one unit, though the school would still pay for the tonnage produced, at the going rate of $31.05 per ton.

“Every school with a compactor would get charged one unit,” Prunty said. “When the private hauler picks up the compactor and it goes across the scale [at the landfill] we’d charge Evergreen Disposal [for the tonnage] and then Evergreen Disposal would charge the school. I would think the school would have a reasonable guess” of how much garbage is generated.

“Compactors for schools likely would have a good rate of return,” Prunty added.

Other factors determining the estimated cost per school include how many garbage bins the school has, how often they’re picked up and how full the bins are at pick-up time.

Columbia Falls School District 6 would see its fees more than triple, from $3,900 district-wide to $17,598.

Smaller rural schools are in the same boat, though their fees under the new system are a fraction of what the larger school districts would pay. Deer Park School currently pays $255 a year, but would pay an estimated $484 under the new fee system. Creston School would jump from $442 to $968.

Moving forward, school districts likely will have to review ways of saving money, such as purchasing a compactor or reducing the number of garbage receptacles, Prunty said.

After the public hearing, the Solid Waste board will make a recommendation to the county commissioners, who will make the final decision on the proposed assessment method.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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