The city of Clarkston’s plan to raise sewer and garbage rates prompted some questions at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Clarkston retiree Beverly Miles said her income doesn’t go up every year, but the city’s fees seem to be steadily increasing.

Jim Naslund, owner of Naslund Disposal, wanted to know if the city is trying to take over his garbage container business.

The concerns stem from a 15 percent sewer hike and 10 percent sanitation increase that are in the works, along with the city’s plan to start charging a rental fee for sanitation carts. The council heard the first reading of ordinances on the increases and will take action on the proposals at its next meeting.

Instead of raising rates, the city would have been better off sealing a deal with the Asotin County Public Utility District to take over the city’s sewer system, Miles said.

Public Works Director Kevin Poole said the PUD decided to pull out of the deal because of the city’s plan to impose a 6 percent water utility tax, which is on the books but had not been levied since about 2004. Court cases upheld the city’s position on the tax, but Clarkston officials haven’t asked the PUD to pay it in years, he said.

“For whatever reason, the city didn’t follow up on that as closely as we should have,” Clarkston city attorney Todd Richardson said. “The court cases all came out in our favor, but the PUD decided not to tell us.”

Miles also wanted to know if the city is having trouble maintaining the sewer system, and Poole said yes. Reserves haven’t been properly built up to replace expensive equipment, and the city is operating on “more of a shoestring than we should be,” he said.

In addition, other utilities, such as Avista, CenturyLink and the cable company all pay the 6 percent tax, and the city needs to be consistent, Poole said.

Councilor Skate Pierce said the city has failed to keep its rates up with inflation and neglected to invest enough money in the sewer plant, which can turn into a huge problem, as it did across the river in Lewiston.

“We are trying to play it safe and smart, so we don’t make a huge mistake,” Pierce said.

The garbage rate increase will be used to replace an aging truck, officials said, and the city has not been charging for yard waste composting and the use of bins, so there is little opportuity to capitalize and replace equipment.

The city’s proposal to begin charging a rental fee for dumpsters and garbage carts is a concern for Naslund, who said he provides about 87 containers to city residents.

“What am I supposed to tell my customers? Are you telling me to get out? What am I supposed to do?” Naslund asked the council.

Naslund said he’s never had any complaints and was asked to provide garbage services inside city limits.

Poole said the city is willing to sit down and talk with Naslund at the next public works committee meeting. The plan is to slowly acquire all of the containers used within the city, he said.

“We don’t want to leave your customers in the lurch, but it’s something we need to get better control of,” Poole said.

Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

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