Charging less for more is, well, just garbage

Ashland officials should apply use common sense and a sharp pencil in dealing with the Recology garbage disposal company's request for big increases in its rates.

Recology Ashland Sanitary Service is the end result of the 2009 purchase of Ashland Sanitary Service by the San Francisco-based Recology. Another result is a current request for a dramatic increase, more than 23 percent, in the rates charged to Ashland customers. The city has countered with the offer of a 7.5 percent increase.

Despite the company's assurances that it is willing to provide an audit of its finances to city officials, a 23 percent increase seems wildly out of line with what's going on in the world of business these days. City officials should take Recology up on its offer of an audit review and keep a particularly close eye on the company's overhead and executive pay. No doubt the bottom line will show what company officials say (otherwise, why would they offer it?), but is that the result of inadequate revenues or unreasonable expenses?

Nearby Rogue Disposal, which provides garbage service for Medford and the surrounding area, charges $15.63 a month to empty a 35-gallon trash can. Even before its rate hike request, Recology charges nearly $1 more — $16.61 — for a smaller, 32-gallon trash can. If the city's reduced counteroffer of 7.5 percent were to be implemented across the board, that single-can rate would be boosted to $17.86.

Recology and the city also should continue to review current discounts for people and businesses that produce more waste. That seems upside-down to us. If you waste more and help fill up the landfill more quickly, you get a discount. If you minimize your waste and make every effort to recycle, you are essentially penalized by paying the highest rate.

That review should be done with one eye out for unintended consequences. Not all garbage producers are created equal, particularly when it comes to commercial or industrial users. It's not reasonable to expect a boutique and a restaurant to produce the same quantities of trash; neither is it reasonable to unduly penalize a company because of the nature of its business.

That being said, however, the current Recology rates should be revised to reward those who produce the least trash, not those who produce the most. Even for homeowners, the current rate structure charges less for a second can. Again, those adding more to the landfill are being rewarded.

The rate request proposal is an opportunity for the city to address that across the board. At a minimum it should demand that Recology eliminate the discount for those who produce more garbage. Better yet, rather than allowing everyone's rates to be boosted, the city should ask that any increased revenue come from those who produce more than their fair share of the trash.

In the end, Recology should be allowed to make a profit — not a San Francisco profit, but a Southern Oregon profit. But that profit should not come disproportionately from those who are doing their best to limit their impact on the earth.

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