Salt Lake County is on the verge of getting out of the garbage-collection business.
A couple of apparently resolvable issues remain to be worked out. But otherwise, the path appears clear for the sanitation agency known for the past 35 years as Special Service District No. 1 to disconnect from Salt Lake County and become an independent regional service provider on Jan. 1, 2013.
Its name: Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District. Its employees: 76 people who will come off Salt Lake County's payroll.
The 80,000 customers in the district's service area shouldn't notice any difference, said Pam Roberts, district director before and after the name change. Garbage and recycling pickups will continue as before. And the residential collection fee will stay the same $12.75 a month for residents of the unincorporated county, Cottonwood Heights, Herriman, Taylorsville, Holladay and parts of Murray.
But, she cautioned, outside factors could drive a fee increase down the road. "Fees won't go up because of this change, but because of inflation and landfill dumping fees that might go up."
Separating the sanitation agency from the county mother ship continues the effort to get Salt Lake County out of delivering municipal services by creating regional service entities.
Law enforcement (Unified Police District) and fire protection (Unified Fire Authority) preceded sanitation in going independent. Roberts said her agency was well positioned for the transition, having been "a self-sustaining, fee-based organization since day one."
Its level of self-rule increased in 2009 when the county created an "Administrative Control Board" to run the district. That nine-member board included five county representatives and an official from each of the four municipalities that received services (not including Murray).
One unresolved issues involves the composition of the new district's board. The County Council must sign off on the plan to reduce the county to three seats on a seven-member board, a number that could shrink if Millcreek incorporates and earns a seat of its own, said deputy county attorney Gavin Anderson.
The other remaining issue is $1.9 million in liabilities that the new district would like the county to retain $830,000 in retirement benefits for 14 existing retirees, $400,000 for two employees' long-term disabilities and $750,000 for administrative overhead expenses.
In exchange, Roberts suggested, Salt Lake County could take title to land beneath public works headquarters in Midvale. That property, she said, actually belongs to the sanitation district and is valued at, serendipitously enough, $1.9 million.
Over the next week, financial officers for the council and the mayor's office will review the financial figures.
The taxman cometh
Salt Lake County residents will experience the shock of seeing their property tax notice earlier than usual this year.
Tax notices on 340,000 parcels will be sent out later this week by the office of County Treasurer K. Wayne Cushing, about three weeks earlier than usual.
"During these tough economic times, an extra three weeks provides a little extra time for citizens to make any necessary arrangements" to pay taxes assessed by the county and various combinations of 69 other governmental entities in the valley, Cushing said Tuesday. Those other entities include school districts, police and fire agencies, libraries and utilities.
The earlier mailing also gives Cushing's staff more time to find proper addresses on mail that is returned undeliverable and then to resend those tax notices.
As is always the case, the treasurer is gearing up for complaints of sticker shock from residents.
"We hear a lot right off the bat," he said, anticipating quite a few questions from unincorporated-area residents confused by the overall impact of replacing the widely disliked police fee with a property tax assessment for law-enforcement services.
County officials have calculated unincorporated-area residents will save $22 from last year's bill, Cushing noted. Residents of Herriman and Riverton will see even bigger savings after joining the unincorporated area in a law-enforcement funding district.