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LEBANON — The Lebanon City Council on Wednesday denied a request by Republic Services for a fee increase for 2019.

Julie Jackson, municipal relations manager for Republic Services, presented the request for an increase of 5.7 percent, which would result in an average increase of $1.43 per month per customer.

But Mayor Paul Aziz and councilor Wayne Rieskamp had concerns about Republic’s current quality of customer service. Aziz showed a video of carts being placed too far from the curb or even being knocked over as they were put down. Aziz said he had seen wheels on carts broken during the process.

Customer service wasn't the only issue. Councilor Rebecca Grizzle acknowledged that Republic’s expenses have gone up with the changes in the recycling market. But she still had concerns about this rate increase, especially coming so closely after a mid-year increase.

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow if your company is having record revenue,” she said.

Jackson said she understood Grizzle’s concerns looking at the company as a whole, but said local rates are tied to the costs involved in doing business here.

“I can’t speak for the company’s finances so much as I can show you our financials for what we do here,” Jackson said. 

Councilor Bob Elliott supported Grizzle’s concern about the rate increase.

“We’ve got people on fixed incomes that are going to have a hard time with this,” he said.

Jackson said 10 new customer service representatives have been hired and will be based in Corvallis. They will take calls from Linn and Benton county residents and will be more informed about local policies and practices than were the customer service representatives at Republic’s larger call centers.

“We’re really happy they’re coming back,” said Jackson, who said this local service will resume Nov. 1.

The council welcomed this news, but it didn't turn the tide when the rate increase was put to a vote. Councilors Jason Bolen, Robert Furlow, Floyd Fisher, Elliott and Rieskamp voted to deny the increase. Grizzle voted in favor.

Jackson will return to the next council session on Nov. 14, when the issue will be discussed again. The council asked her to provide additional information on improved customer service as well as potential discounts for seniors and other struggling financially.

In other action during Wednesday’s session, the council:

• Voted to award $10,000 to the Lebanon Museum Foundation. This group was recently formed with the goal of creating a museum devoted to Lebanon history. The source of the funding is Lebanon’s tourism fund, which is supported by the transient room tax.

• Moved forward with plans to create an urban renewal district for the downtown area. This district, which is proposed to be in effect for 25 years, would support projects downtown, including work at Ralston Park, improved disabled access, streetscaping, signage, street reconstruction, building restoration, public restrooms and downtown residential development. The plans for the renewal must still be presented to the Linn County Board of Commissioners and the planning commission, so no vote was held during Wednesday’s session. Creation of the district will be on the agenda at the November session.

• Voted to continue operation of the Lebanon Peer Court in cooperation with the Linn County Juvenile Department. Over the past year, the Lebanon Peer Court handled about 30 referrals. Police Chief Frank Stevenson said the program was valuable and recommended it be continued.

• Awarded a contract to Udell Engineering for design work on the next phase of the Westside Interceptor sanitary sewer project. This contract is for $174,300. This is the fifth phase of the project and the goal is to extend the line south from the intersection of Oak Street and Airway Road to the intersection of Walker Road and Stoltz Hill Road. This work has an estimated cost of $4 million to $5 million. The city currently has $3.9 million in funding available for the project.

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