Council mulls merits of sanitation hike

by nathan oster

The uncertainty surrounding the landfill and its future is having an impact on the town of Greybull’s budgeting for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

The council on Monday night approved the budget on first reading, but did so with many questions still unanswered in the sanitation fund, where Town Clerk Kathy Smith had penciled in an across-the-board, 6-percent increase in the monthly residential and business rates.

Residential customers currently pay $22.50 per month, while business customers pay $35.50. A 6-percent increase would raise each of those monthly rates by about $2 dollars and generate another $20,000 for the town.

Considered an “enterprise” fund, the sanitation program is designed to be self supporting —just like water and sewer.  But Smith explained on Monday that the budget has been very tight in recent years — and in fact, the town has had to dip into its reserves to cover expenditures.

The town last raised its sanitation rates in July of 2012, moving them upward by 50 cents at the time.

Smith said the big unknown is the situation at the landfill.  “We’re not sure where we stand,” she said, noting that there is talk of the county upping its fee to 4.5 or 5 cents a pound around Jan. 1. “We’re barely supporting that fund right now, so I think we need to look at an increase.”

Mayor Bob Graham pointed out that even with a $2 bump, the residential rate in Greybull would be below the $28 residential rate assessed in Basin.

“If I knew the landfill was going to stay at 3.9 cents per pound, I’d say we might be able to get by for another year,” Smith said. “But we just don’t know right now.”

The council directed Smith to provide options for the next discussion, including increasing the sanitation rate in phases — by $1 on July 1, another $1 on Jan. 1, 2014, if landfill rates increase as expected — and putting off the planned retrofit of a town dump truck for another year.

On that subject, Graham asked for the council’s blessing to pursue funding from the USDA for the retrofit.  The truck is good operating condition, but its hydraulics failed and is in need of other repairs. What the town would like to do is replace what isn’t working on the truck and incorporate a “hook and rail system” that could be utilized to pick up recycling rollouts.

The town is budgeting $37,000 for the truck retrofit, but not all of that would come out of the sanitation budget, Smith said.  Some would come out of the water and sewer budgets as well.

McGuire said that while he doesn’t like the idea of raising rates, the town is “up against it,” adding, “I’m not sure we have much of a choice.”

Councilman Ross Jorgensen agreed. “Your water, sewer and sanitation funds are enterprise funds and they need to be self supporting.  The sanitation and sewer funds are both just barely squeaking by.  It’s taken years to get our water reserves built up.  I don’t like raising rates, but at the same time, I don’t want to run what we have into the ground because then we have nothing.  Or be in a position where we have to borrow equipment from other towns to get the job done here.”

Mayor Bob Graham pointed out the proposed increase would come to $24 annually for residential customers.

“It adds up, Bob,” said Councilman Clay Collingwood.

“I agree,” said Graham. “But if we’re dipping into our reserves to make budget, where’s the tradeout if we aren’t replacing that money.”

With the meeting already nearly 2 ½ hours old and an executive session still to come, the council went no further into budget talks.  The second reading is scheduled to occur as part of a special meeting set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28.  Third and final reading is scheduled for the regular June meeting.