Catching up on picking up

Most people probably don’t realize that whatever they pay for having garbage picked up, the company doing the collecting doesn’t set its own prices.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), among its other regulatory and oversight dealings, sets the rates for garbage haulers. To raise rates, a garbage hauler like the Methow Valley’s WasteWise — a for-profit company — has to ask the UTC for approval and make a case for increasing its charges to customers.

WasteWise hasn’t asked for a rate increase since 1996. How many things do you know of that haven’t gone up in price for 18 years? Do you know of any business whose operational costs haven’t increased during that same time? WasteWise co-owner Chad Patterson pointed out in a May 28 News article that the price of diesel fuel alone has about quintupled since 1996.

Patterson and his partner Casey Bouchard have made a commitment to improving WasteWise’s equipment and services, adding a new truck, new garbage carts and curbside pick-up for recyclables. Their request to the UTC would increase collection rates in the valley by about 9 percent for residential customers and 11.5 percent for commercial customers.

Given that rates were last raised in a previous century and WasteWise continues to improve its own efficiency, those increases don’t seem onerous. (Like every other WasteWise commercial customer, the Methow Valley News will be absorbing a higher rate for pickup of the garbage bin out back.) If the UTC approves the WasteWise request at its June 26 meeting, the company’s 1,600-plus customers can expect that the additional revenues will be invested back into the community.

But we probably shouldn’t get used to that 18-year gap between increases.

Take a deep breath

The Winthrop Town Council is once again gingerly stepping into the regulatory swamp where decisions about whether, and how, to allow retail marijuana outlets are made. That the sloshing about in murky, uncertain waters is to some extent the town’s own doing doesn’t help that process.

The problem — and it is clearly a problem that isn’t going away — is that the town has a light industrial zone up on Horizon Flats, where retail outlets are not currently allowed, and where Austin Lott hopes to open a marijuana store. But there are already several businesses — either grandfathered in or offering something called ancillary retail sales — that look a lot like retail stores to most of us. It’s not a black market. We can go there and buy consumer goods directly from stores that sell them openly.

That’s one of the arguments at the heart of Lott’s application to operate a retail marijuana outlet in a building his family already owns in the Horizon Flats area. Lott has persevered through a series of town actions (or inactions), and last week the council agreed to consider a conditional use permit process that might allow Lott’s store.

Nobody denies that what’s already happening on Horizon Flats is retailing, whatever adjective it comes with. The seemingly flimsy distinction between what existing stores do, and what Lott is asking to do, just don’t make sense to a lot of people.

Of course, it isn’t that simple. To be fair, the Town Council is faced with issues it has never had to deal with in an evolving system that still has many unanswered questions. Council members are trying to balance a lot of factors, including how to maintain consistency in the application of the town’s zoning regulations. They are listening and trying to figure it out, and for that they deserve a lot of credit.