By Frank Lewis
Same story … different day. Rates paid by the citizens of Portsmouth are about to go up again. This time it is the Sanitation rates and the only thing to be determined is whether those rates will go up by 50 cents, 75 cents or $1 per month.
In the wake of the discovery that the city will now be on the hook to the Environmental Protection Agency for an annual fee estimated to be between $75,000 and $85,000, Portsmouth City Manager Derek K. Allen said in order to not diminish the amount remaining in the Sanitation Fund, which currently has a $414,000 balance, the only option is to raise rates for consumers.
“The last thing I want to do is send another $75,000 out the door,” Allen said.
He said while the EPA believes it is a simple step to just add the $4.75 fee per ton to that agency, it is not that simple.
“The problem with that is, because of the increased cost of the landfill disposal, we’ve already increased our tipping fees from $40 to $52 a ton,” Allen said. “And I called over to Lawrence County to the Rumpke facility, and they charge $47 a ton. So adding another $5 per ton is really not something we would do. In addition, because we already raised that fee, half the garbage is not ours, so those people were subsidizing the trash collection for the city of Portsmouth.”
Allen said the only option the city has, since they have already raised the tipping fees, is to raise the monthly bills of residents of the city.
While no name was mentioned throughout the discussion of the matter at Monday’s City Council meeting, reference was continually made to someone who, when they learned of the city’s citations from the EPA, failed to inform Allen about it.
“Our employees answer to you (Allen),” Third Ward Councilman Kevin E. Johnson said. “There is no reason why you shouldn’t have known about this. We’ve asked a lot of the citizens of Portsmouth and they have stepped up and I think we need to step up and I think that these kinds of things just don’t need to happen. If they (EPA) were there that many times. If they advised us that many times and they put it in writing because we have copies of it, you of all people, should have known.”
Allen said a call from the EPA put things in perspective for the city.
“They (EPA) finally came to visit me,” Allen said. “I had gotten phone calls about that they were done with us being an unpermitted transfer station and we would have to become permitted. As a result, if we become permitted, we would be allowed to haul larger loads. We would be no longer required to follow the 50-cubic-yard restriction on trailers.”
Allen said the city had put off for about a year meeting with EPA officials.
“I knew there was an issue regarding the 50-cubic-yard,” Allen said. “At the time I did not realize that there had been three inspections this year and we had received violation notices, which we had.”
Allen said, when EPA officials met with him and Solicitor John Haas they stated they were no longer willing to wait for the city giving the city the option to either become permitted or comply with the 50-cubic-yard rule, which Allen said the city is unable to do.
Allen presented Council with a table showing the revenue estimated to be produced by the increase. If Council chooses to raise the rates 50 cents per month, the regular charge would go to $21 and $16 for seniors. Another category titled “other” showed a rate of $19, but unable to determine exactly who or what fell under the category “other,” Council seemed determine to eliminate that rate altogether. Allen said he is nearly certain it pertained to public housing. However, last year, Portsmouth Metropolitan Housing Authority (PMHA) broke away from the city’s sanitation services.
At 75 cents per month, the regular rate would go to $21.25 per month and the senior rate would go to $16.25 and should Council choose to raise the rate $1 per month, the new regular rate would be $21.50 with seniors paying $16.50. It isn’t clear how those rates would change if the “other” rate is eliminated.
Council chose to take no action on the measure pending more information from Allen as to the clarification of the term “other” and it’s effect on the new rates. It appears certain however that in the future citizens of Portsmouth will be paying more for the city’s sanitation services.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.