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The Future of Cinder Lake

Todd Hanson, solid waste director for the city of Flagstaff, talks about the future of the Cinder Lake Landfill Tuesday afternoon.

Flagstaff City Council moved one step closer to raising landfill and trash pickup fees in order to support a number of infrastructure projects over the next few years.

In November, the council had decided to go with the option that would raise fees by 7.5 percent annually for five years, but many were not happy about the proposal. The increase led some members of the council to wonder if the city should be in the solid waste business in the first place.

And that question came up again on Tuesday. Vice-mayor Jamie Whelan wondered what the difference would be if the city were to simply have a private third party provide such services, while councilmember Eva Putzova questioned what allowed companies like Waste Management to offer lower prices. 

“Are we at all considering farming out this service?” Whelan said.

But Cinder Lake Landfill director Todd Hanson said moving in that direction was not the way to go. Hanson pointed to the difference in priorities between the city and a private waste management company.

The city is trying to provide a service to its citizens, Hanson said, while a private company would be focusing on ways to increase its margins and keep its stockholders happy. And Hanson said he should know: Before he began to work for the city three years ago, he worked for private waste management companies for 26 years.

“We make enough to reinvest in our business to keep it going, to keep the landfill operating, to keep our equipment on the road, to keep the fleet going, to hire people and pay them a decent wage,” Hanson said. “An outside contractor looking at it, it’s cost plus investment -- oh, and by the way, keeping the investors and the board of directors happy. I know if we were to do that, things would get exponentially expensive to do the same job here.”

Landfills are extremely valuable, Hanson said. There are only about 2,000 landfills across the United States and the majority are privately owned and operated. Owning and operating its own landfill allows the city to be more future focused and is a huge asset for the city.

Nonetheless, increases in the fees are sizable. In dollars and cents, the 7.5 percent annual increase would mean residential rates increasing from the current $17.73 to $25.45 over the next five years.

That rate increase would only affect residents, however, as businesses and commercial entities’ rates should increase by only 3 percent the first year. This is in order to stay competitive with private companies, which are allowed to compete with the city for commercial business.

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There would be no subsequent rate increases after that.

But Hanson said because the rates have not been raised for the past 10 years, the increase is not an unreasonable ask. 

Council plans to pass the fees for the final time on Tuesday.

Updated for correction at 3:48 p.m. on Dec. 6. 

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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Reporter - Government, Development

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