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County garbage rates remain stable

But even with a projected hike in 2008, residents in unincorporated areas will pay less than their neighbors.

By BILL VARIAN
Published August 11, 2006


TAMPA - Hillsborough County commissioners have not approved more than a minimal increase to rates for garbage pickup in the past decade, letting residents of unincorporated areas enjoy some of the lowest costs in the region.

They are poised next week to approve keeping the charge the same for one more year. But the days of cheap garbage pickup may be coming to an end.

Several factors could mean residents will face higher garbage rates starting in 2008. Decisions by the commission over the next few months could dictate how much.

Even in the worst-case scenario, county garbage officials estimate Hillsborough residents will continue paying less than residents of other local jurisdictions.

"There will have to be some kind of increase," said the county's debt management director, Mike Merrill. "You can only bend this so many ways before it starts to break."

Residential property owners in unincorporated Hillsborough County currently pay $170.59 a year for both garbage pickup and disposal. The charge is assessed annually as part of an owner's property tax bill.

Compare that to the city of Tampa, where residents pay $333 annually, in monthly installments with the water and sewer bill, for roughly the same service.

Under current estimates, Hillsborough County will have to raise rates to $215.24 annually in 2008, a 26 percent increase, then continue increasing the charge every other year after that.

County solid waste officials hope to be able to reduce the amount of the increase by restructuring some of the department's debt.

"That's something that's positive and hopefully that will translate to lower rate increases than we have projected," said Barry Boldissar, the county's Solid Waste Management Department director.

Among the upcoming decisions for commissioners is whether to extend contracts with the three companies that pick up residential trash in different parts of the county.

Waste Management of Tampa picks up garbage in northern areas, Republic Waste Service hauls it from parts of northern and eastern Hillsborough and Liberty Waste is the collector in much of the southern and parts of eastern Hillsborough.

Their contracts expire next year. Commissioners are tentatively slated to consider new contracts with those haulers in September.

The county had considered seeking new bids from other garbage haulers, but have concluded few new companies would be poised to make a competitive offer. Surveying rates around the region, they were not hopeful they could score lower rates than the ones they have negotiated.

Asked why they didn't seek bids from the current haulers to see if one might offer a lower price to serve the whole county, Boldissar said he would prefer keeping three garbage companies in place.

That way if one runs into difficulty, there are backup companies to pick up the slack.

As part of the new contracts, the county anticipates paying more to compensate for fuel cost increases.

It also intends to exact greater financial penalties when haulers miss multiple houses within certain time spans. The companies also would be socked for failing to make a pickup after a complaint is filed, or for falsely reporting the number of complaints they receive.

Each company would be rewarded if it set exemplary records of few missed home complaints.

All three hauling companies experienced sharp spikes in complaints of missed service earlier this year, though each has made steps to improve its performance. But county officials view that part of the new deal as particularly important.

[Last modified August 10, 2006, 08:55:58]


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