The monthly bill for solid waste collection in Hays is going up 10% starting next month, and will continue increasing over five years.
City commissioners unanimously approved a series of hikes through 2024 during their Thursday night meeting, although not quite as steeply as staff had first recommended.
City of Hays customers have been paying $15.20 a month since 2006 for trash and recyclables pick up.
That generates about $1.3 million in annual revenue, Public Works Director Jesse Rohr told the commission. However, estimated expenses for the Solid Waste Department next year are $1.5 million.
Inflation has crept in over 13 years and the solid waste fund has been slightly going into the negative the past two years. There also has been no money put into the fund’s reserves for equipment replacement during that time.
“What we’re trying to achieve is to keep the unreserved fund balance as close to zero as possible,” said Toby Dougherty, city manager, “without building up too much cash or going too far into the hole.”
Staff had recommended a hike to $17.30 starting next month.
Mayor Henry Schwaller and Commissioner Sandy Jacobs were concerned the jump was a little steep.
“I’d rather see it a little flatter,” Jacobs said.
Schwaller noted the city has also had to raise its sewer and water rates. “People, especially those working at minimum wage jobs or just above that, are having trouble paying their bills,” he said.
The commission, absent Vice-Mayor Shaun Musil who was away, agreed to a 10% hike in the October bill to $16.72, an increase of $1.12 per month or 10%.
In Jan. 2021 the bill will go up 9% to $18.22. The hikes slow down for the next three years with a 5% increase in 2022 to $19.14 a month. The increase will be 2% the next two years. The monthly bill will be $19.52 in 2023 and $19.91 in 2024.
In total, the increase will be $4.71 a month, gradually going up over 5 years.
Expenses within the Solid Waste Division have slowly increased the past 13 years due to fuel increases, higher hauling and sorting fees for recyclables, salaries, and higher tipping fees at the Ellis County landfill.
Commissioners thanked the Ellis County Commission which agreed to reduce the tipping fee charged to the city from $75 to $72 a ton. The decrease was effective Sept. 1 and will continue through 2020 when a $1 increase will be implemented. Hays is the largest customer of the Ellis County waste transfer station.
A potential agreement with a private trash hauler was considered this summer. Dougherty noted the owner recently increased his contract price, making it unfeasible for the city.
Most of the solid waste rate paid by Hays customers goes to refuse collection and the annual alley cleanup. A portion goes to the award-winning curbside recycling program that began in 1995. A small part of the rate is used for operation of the free compost site started several years ago.
Revenue from the recycling program has declined due to changes in the worldwide recycling market. It was $63,000 in 2011, compared to $5,000 in 2018.
Reducing or eliminating the recycling program would result in a smaller rate hike, but Rohr is not recommending any alterations in the program.
In other business, the commission welcomed three new employees of the Hays Police Department who were introduced by Assistant Chief Brian Dawson.
Sarah Wheeler is a new HPD municipal court records clerk. Joe Lantz, Wichita, and Derick Nordell are new police officers. Nordell previously served in the Hays Police Department, moved to Concordia, and is now back in Hays.
An update on plans for transitional housing at First Call For Help for homeless Hays residents was presented by Linda Mills, executive director, and Dennis Wilson, FCFH board member.
Mayor Schwaller called for a 50 minute executive session at the end of the meeting to discuss matters of attorney/client privilege and discuss potential property acquisition.
Musil joined the executive session via phone along with Doug Williams, Grow Hays executive director and bond counsel, as well as the city project director, city attorney, city finance director and city manager.
No action was taken following the executive session.