Jefferson County wants to increase curbside service for trash

Congestion at transfer station increasing costs, manager says

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County is looking for ways to reduce traffic at the local dump and encourage people to use the curbside services offered throughout the area.

The county increased the minimum fee at the solid waste transfer station on County Landfill Road for the first time since 2014 from $10 to $20 and per ton fees from $163 to $167, but the effort hasn’t encouraged much of an increase in the number of people using the curbside service, said Al Cairns, the county’s solid waste manager.

Cairns said the county is not contemplating another fee increase, and he hopes a public education campaign could encourage people to sign up for curbside service.

In a presentation to the Port Townsend City Council on Monday night, Cairns said whether the fee increase worked to limit congestion at the transfer station and increase compactor loads is a matter of perspective.

“If you’re a glass half (empty) kind of person, not much is the answer,” Cairns said. “And if it’s glass half full, we’ve moved the needle in the right direction, just not that much.”

The city and the county both contract with Murrey’s Olympic Disposal for curbside pickup of trash, recycling and yard waste, but some people still prefer to take their own household waste to the transfer station, citing either cost of curbside pickup, convenience or both.

However, one commercial trash truck — which have trash compactors onboard — can carry as much as roughly 1,000 personal vehicles arriving at the transfer station, Cairns said. Additionally, the trash brought by commercial trucks comes pre-compacted, saving staff time.

Outside Port Townsend in unincorporated Jefferson County, the number of residents using the curbside service is only 39 percent, he said.

“That’s a big contributor to the congestion that we’re seeing at the transfer station, so we do everything that we can to encourage curbside service,” Cairns said.

In addition to the transfer station, there are four free drop bin locations throughout the county.

“When you operate four free drop bins, it’s hard to encourage curbside,” Cairns said.

The fee increases have been in place since November, and Cairns said it is too early to definitively say whether the charge is working as intended, but he noted the station has operated in the black for the first quarter since 2019.

The transfer station doesn’t make money every year, and it uses reserves from good years to subsidize bad years in order to stave off additional fee increases, Cairns said. He added the transfer station had operated at a loss from 2019 to Jan. 1 of this year and that reserve funds had been spent down to the allowable benchmark.

Collecting trash from individuals requires more time and staff at the transfer station and is causing long lines and wait times, he said.

“We’re at a point where we have teased out every potential efficiency on that site,” Cairns said. “After that point, the congestion is the congestion. Until we build a replacement transfer station, that’s the level of service.”

“Please don’t come on Tuesdays, and please subscribe to curbside service,” he added.

With the fee increases, the county also started a low-income discount program, which Cairns said was largely successful and county staff are able to direct customers who qualify to the program.

In March, staff surveyed 91 customers at the transfer station and collected data on where people were coming from and why they hadn’t signed up for the curbside service.

Cairns said 53 percent of respondents said they knew about curbside service, but only 32 percent said they would sign up if it cost less than $30 a month. The current average cost of curbside service in the county is $28.85 a month, Cairns said.

Most of the survey respondents said the minimum fee would have to be at least $31 before they switched to the curbside service.

Many people taking their trash to the transfer station are contractors or others who have more waste more frequently than curbside service can take, but some were simply people looking to get out of the house.

“It’s a nice outing,” Cairns said. “We’ve got a large retirement community with disposable income so the minimum fee is not a factor and it’s time away from the house. I don’t know what to do with that.”

Cairns said staff heard consistently from customers that if the minimum fee cost the same as curbside service, they would switch.

“This is an information-sharing exercise,” Cairns said. “There’s no threat of a fee increase. We’ve really got to move through our busy season and see what effect these fees are having.”

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached by email at peter.segall@peninsulanews.us.

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