Opinion

Vote no on parcel fee | Editorial

After November, the structure of solid waste is going to change drastically. There are two very different proposals on the table, and after careful consideration, we are advocating voting no on the solid waste parcel fee.

You can either pay a yearly fee for 15 years plus the cost of self-haul (Plan A) or pay for curbside pick-up (Plan B). You can either give more money to a county that clearly has had no success managing a solid waste operation or you can pay money to a private company to come pick up your garbage and recycle.

The proposed parcel fee for a single family residence, vacation rental or unit in a multi-household building is $100; it’s $150 for homes or bed and breakfasts with an ADU, and $75 for condos. For non-residential properties, the fee is $10 or $20 per 100 square feet.

If it passes, service will remain at current levels. Self-haul will be guaranteed but the rates would only go down slightly. County council members have said Plan A is more expensive for most homeowners.

If voters reject the measure, the county will open up bids for managing the solid waste stations. Curbside pickup would continue to be provided by San Juan Sanitation, which is the county’s designated hauler. The route collection rates are determined by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. Fees for self-haul would not be set by the WUTC.

We see a few problems with Plan A.

First of all, the county isn’t even sure if it is legal. If adopted, our county would be the first in the state to enact such a fee to pay for solid waste services. It’s possible the state supreme court would rule it an “unlawful tax” and require the county to refund up to three years of receipts. Due to county prosecutor Randy Gaylord’s interpretation of legal precedent, the measure has been crafted as a fee-for-use, not a flat rate charge to parcels, which would be a tax.

In addition, we don’t think it’s very wise to fork over more of our money to a county administration that has allowed the solid waste department to accumulate nearly $1.5 million in debt, most of which came from unsuccessful attempts to develop a solid waste facility on San Juan Island.

We think it makes much more sense to hand the operations over to a private company like San Juan Sanitation. In a letter to the editor last week, manager Calvin Den Hartog said that if the parcel fee doesn’t pass, “it does not mean the end of self-haul, and it does not mean mandatory collection.” In addition to the Port of Lopez looking at running the Lopez transfer station, Den Hartog says San Juan Sanitation is “very interested in providing drop-off service on Orcas and San Juan Island … Both garbage and recycling would be offered … Re-use opportunities and locations on all islands will remain the same.”

This should alleviate the fears of some islanders who worry that the “reduce, reuse, recycle” philosophy will go by the wayside if the parcel fee is rejected. The county’s solid waste resolution states that if Plan A is rejected: “The county will allow the existing reuse facilities on Orcas (the Exchange) and Lopez (Take it or Leave It) to operate on the county owned sites.” Plus, if San Juan Sanitation provided curb-side recycling, its existing clients who are currently not recycling might be more inclined to do so.

We see too many flaws in Plan A to lend our support. It’s time for a major shake-up in solid waste, and we think our best hope lies in Plan B.

Ballot information

Ballots will be mailed on Oct. 21, and must be post-marked by Nov. 8.


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