When it came time to hike garbage pickup and landfill fees Monday, the Billings City Council chose an option with a smaller initial increase over one that would have increased the charge $2.01 per month beginning July 1.
Both options will, over a three-year period, cover higher costs and other refuse-related planned projects.
The vote was 7-4, with Mayor Tom Hanel and council members Jani McCall, Angela Cimmino and Brent Cromley voting against the motion. Those four officials instead favored the steeper initial hike, which was the recommendation of city staff because it allowed for a small reserve balance to cover planned future capital projects. The plan the council approved depletes all excess reserve balances during the three-year phase-in of the increases.
Under the plan, monthly residential collection will increase from $7.77 to $8.55 for the coming fiscal year. The rate climbs to $9.43 in 2015-16 and $10.40 in 2016-17.
Jennifer Duray, finance manager for the public works department, said that increases in both garbage collection and landfill tipping fees are needed because of upcoming investments that must be made at the landfill, the shrinking reserve balance in the solid waste fund, increased recycling costs and generally higher operation and maintenance costs.
On July 1, the tipping fee paid by Billings residents at the landfill will go up from $14.76 per ton to $16.19. Residents of other towns and counties in Montana will pay $19.43 per ton, an increase of $1.81 per ton. Out-of-state residents will be charged $23.48 per ton; they previously paid $17.62 per ton, the same as Montanans who don’t live in Billings or Yellowstone County.
At $102.60 per year, Billings residents will less per year for having their garbage collected than any other city surveyed, including Great Falls, Casper, Wyo., Helena, Bozeman and Missoula.
Landfill fees in Billings are substantially less than other cities surveyed. The Bozeman landfill, which features the least expensive fees other than the Billings landfill, charges $27 per ton, more than $10 per ton more than Billings residents must pay, even after the increase.
Keeping children safe
The council unanimously approved a $2 million donation over the next five years to the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
The Billings Police Department is the fiduciary agent for the task force, which operates statewide.
Whitefish philanthropist and venture capitalist Michael Goguen made the donation. “Once I realized Montana ICAC’s critical mission, and its great financial need, I reached out to see how I could help,” Goguen said in a news release. “I’ve spent my entire career in the high-tech business and have seen first-hand the power that computing and the Internet have to change the world. So, I am deeply disturbed when the immense power for good is used to exploit the most innocent and vulnerable segment of the population — our children.”
The purpose of the task force is threefold: educating people about using the Internet safely and responsively, enforcing federal and state laws governing Internet use and prosecuting those people responsible for exploiting children and young men and women in Montana.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. Jean said the gift will be used to hire additional personnel in Kalispell and Missoula and on equipment, training and logistic support.
Tim West, task force director, said the money will also be used to compensate local law enforcement for their help with ICAC cases. “In the past, we had to negotiate with the community,” he said. “Now we have the leisure to be able to offer the money up front.”
City administrator’s future
In response to a question from Tom Zurbuchen, City Administrator Tina Volek, who’s 63, said she has no plans to retire before she’s eligible for the Medicare program, which is currently age 65, “although the way Congress is going, we may be together until I am 80,” she joked.
“It is my intention to work with the council for two years, if the council permits,” she said. “No city administrator should rest on their laurels, because we’re all aware of the conditions of our employment. We serve at the pleasure of the majority of the council.”
She recalled an episode at another city when she was having lunch with her boss, the city administrator. The administrator was looking at a car he planned to purchase with the raise he thought he was about to receive.
Instead, the city council fired him during that evening’s meeting.