LAS CRUCES – Garbage day will be getting a bit more expensive.
That’s because the Las Cruces City Council unanimously voted to raise residential and commercial garbage pickup rates at its Monday meeting. The rate increase takes effect in a month, Assistant Utilities Director Delilah Walsh told the council.
The rate hike was postponed twice, in March and in April, due to the growing economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 public health emergency. Months later, most New Mexico businesses still cannot operate at full capacity and thousands are still out of work.
Expanded federal unemployment benefits, which added an extra $600 a week on top of unemployed workers’ checks, are slated to end July 31 unless Congress extends it.
The hike will raise curbside pickup rates by $2 per month for residential customers and raises rates for commercial customers by varying degrees.
For residential customers, standard 96-gallon containers will rise from $13.25 to $15.25 a month. Compact 64-gallon containers will rise from $11.25 to $13.25 a month. The cost of an additional container, $9 a month, will remain the same.
Residents who want to keep their existing rates could downsize their bins from standard to compact and reduce the amount of trash they toss away.
“Maybe we’ll be throwing away a little less trash,” District 5 Councilor Gill Sorg said.
Here’s the new commercial rates, which are charged per pickup or per roll-off/drop-off:
- One 96-gallon trash bin will increase from $27.80 to $28.00.
- Two 96-gallon trash bins will increase from $55.60 to $56.00.
- A 1.5 cubic yard container will increase from $64.00 to $70.00.
- A 2.0 cubic yard container will increase from $75.00 to $82.00.
- A 3.0 cubic yard container will increase from $85.00 to $93.00.
- 4.0 cubic yard container will increase from $95.00 to $104.00.
- 6.0 cubic yard container will increase from $113.00 to $124.00.
- 8.0 cubic yard container will increase from $126.00 to $138.00.
- 2.0 cubic yard compactor will increase from $75.00 to $90.00.
- 4.0 cubic yard compactor will increase from $116.00 to $130.00.
- Commercial roll-off pull fees will rise from $162.80 to $170.00.
- Commercial Green Waste Drop-Off rates will rise from $22.70 to $25.00.
- Clean Fill Drop-Off/Roll-Off fees will rise from $3.96 to $4.36.
Rates need to rise to meet the utility department’s current costs, with a significant portion being the cost of replacing vehicles. While vehicle replacement costs are covered for the current fiscal year, Walsh said, 26 new vehicles are planned to replace the aging vehicles in the current fleet for the next fiscal year.
Rates were last raised in 2015. Las Cruces Utilities doesn’t receive tax revenue. It funds itself through billing customers. The rate hike will seek to close an estimated $1.3 million budget gap for this fiscal year.
Three costs are already weighing on the department: an extra $157,764 to dispose of trash at South Central Solid Waste Authority’s landfill, which came from a rate increase, an additional $121,638 due to a raise in Solid Waste salaries and benefits and an extra $565,557 from Solid Waste’s portion of an increase in “shared services” such as dispatch.
The department’s current rates, prior to the hike, can’t cover those three increases.
So Walsh told the council the rate raise couldn’t be put off any longer. She said the city would continue to lose potential revenue at the same time as the city is growing, setting up future need for residential trash pickup.
But some customers still need help paying their city utility bills.
Walsh said that, due to the pandemic, some businesses were offered flexible billing if they were closed or had fewer customers. Those businesses were able to reduce the frequency of trash pickups or use smaller trash bins in the last several months.
Additionally, residents and businesses have taken advantage of the city’s Utility Assistance Fund during the pandemic. The fund typically holds $100,000 each fiscal year and helps needy residents pay utility bills. The council injected it with an extra $125,000 in April, due to the pandemic.
From April through June, Walsh told the council 527 residential and 59 commercial customers received utility assistance through the fund. After the usual $100,000 sum was expended, the $125,000 has almost been entirely expended.
The fund covers all four utilities the city provides.
But the number of customers who needed assistance was just a small portion of the 35,407 customers Solid Waste has, Walsh said. She said it’s evidence the impact of the pandemic on billing wasn’t as severe or widespread as councilors imagined in the spring.
“This tells us our citizens are budgeting responsibly, they’re using whatever means necessary … to budget and meet their utility needs,” Walsh said.
Going forward, the Utilities Department estimates it will spend between $20,000 and $30,000 a month to assist residential and commercial customers with bills if things stay as they are today.
Walsh said since the new sum of $100,000 was allocated to the UAF for FY21 in July, $12,000 has already been used.
Utilities Director Jorge Garcia said the city council could inject more funds into the UAF if that demand holds.
The city typically provides about 33,000 residential and 2,700 businesses with weekly curbside trash pickup and disposes of 6,000 tons of trash monthly. Solid waste removal is one of the four utilities the city provides.