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Garbage rate hike on agenda

The Ashland City Council will consider whether to approve an 8 percent garbage rate increase that would cost the average residential customer another $1.43 per month.

The issue is on the agenda for a council meeting that starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

The monthly bill to service a 32-gallon container, the most commonly used container in Ashland, would rise from $17.86 to $19.29, according to city staff.

The 8 percent rate increase would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

In December 2011, the money-losing Recology Ashland Sanitary Service — which has a city franchise to provide garbage and recycling services in town — asked for a 23 percent rate increase to cover losses and allow for a small profit.

The council approved an 11 percent increase that went into effect for 2012 and also commissioned a study to see whether further rate hikes were warranted.

A Washington state-based garbage industry consultant concluded that Recology is entitled to an additional 8 percent increase.

But the consultant's report also noted inefficiencies and money-losing aspects of Recology's business.

The popular recycle depot on Water Street loses money, as does Recology's yellow bag and sticker program for customers who generate little garbage and use the bags and stickers for on-demand garbage pickup.

Other customers are subsidizing those operations, the report said.

Additionally, while garbage companies for many other communities have invested in garbage trucks with mechanical arms that lift containers, Recology has an inefficient mix of mechanical plus manual pick-up operations, the report said.

Ashland faces many challenges in going to a completely automated pickup system.

Many residential streets remain clogged during the day with parked cars from workers and tourists, for example, making it difficult for automated trucks to reach garbage and recycling containers, Recology staff members said.

Recology has suggested more investment in semi-automated trucks, in which drivers pull containers out from between parked cars into the street, then let the trucks' mechanical arms lift the containers.

Automating more of Recology's collection efforts would require another rate increase, but could stabilize rates in the long-term, according to the consultant and city staff.

In other business on Tuesday night, the council will consider whether to approve public art as part of an upcoming project to reconstruct the downtown Plaza.

Local artist Sue Springer has designed a pattern of abstract curving shapes she would make out of ceramic and install on the side of short walls planned for the Plaza. The ceramic mosaic would have green, gold and earth tones.

The low walls are meant to protect trees and landscaping while providing spots for people to sit.

Cost is $750 for the public art design and $12,410 for fabrication and installation. The project would be paid for with hotel tax money set aside for public art.

The council also will discuss whether to continue providing a portable toilet behind downtown Plaza businesses.

The toilet was installed in November 2011 on a trial basis to service mostly homeless people overnight. Ashland's public restrooms are locked at night.

Also Tuesday, the council will discuss the process for choosing a person to fill an upcoming vacancy created on the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission when Rich Rosenthal takes his newly elected post on the City Council.

The council could ask the commission to vet applicants and recommend a replacement, or the council could take on the task alone.

For a complete list of agenda items and for details on each item, visit www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=15255.