July 16, 2002 11:00 pm

The rate proposals for curbside recycling and garbage pickup that the La Grande City Council will consider tonight need to go back to the drawing board. The rates appear too high and will lead too many people to cancel their garbage service.

LA GRANDE HAS to move to curbside recycling. The state is mandating curbside and, frankly, it's the right thing to do. The Observer has advocated the need for curbside recycling for some time. But the proposals submitted by City Garbage Service are exorbitant. The council needs to closely examine cost estimates, dumping fees and projected increases, and the company's return on revenue before moving ahead with the proposals submitted by the company. Taking a look at what citizens in other communities are paying wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

City staff is recommending the supposed "lower-cost option'' of every-other-week garbage service and every-other-week curbside recycling. The option would cost $13.15 a month, a $2.65 a month increase over what people who receive weekly garbage service now pay. It would provide half the garbage service but would result in their recyclables being hauled away.

THE SAME PROPOSAL would result in a $4.65 a month increase for those who are now getting every-other-week garbage service at a rate of $8.50 a month — the same amount of garbage collection. Considering that these customers would be receiving weekly pickup of garbage or recycling, virtually doubling their service, the price increase might appear reasonable. But $4.65 a month translates into $56 a year for recycling. That's too much for many people to bear, and some might be inclined to do without garbage or recycling service, which would defeat the purpose of boosting recycling rates.

The fee proposals also assume pending increases in dumping fees at the county landfill and added costs in keeping City Garbage Service's Materials Recovery Center open more days. The county hasn't set the rates for its new dump fees. The city should hold off making its decision until those costs are known.

AS THE FRANCHISE HOLDER for garbage and recycling collection services in

La Grande, City Garbage Service's costs and return should be at the center of the debate over new rates. People in La Grande who throw away less garbage have been paying considerably more per container than those who fill up a container every week. Every-other-week garbage service has been costing roughly $4.25 a container. Weekly garbage service has been running $2.62. There has been no incentive to throw away less and recycle more.

Councilors should be asking why it costs more to throw away less when it comes to garbage. Recycling, understandably, carries a cost. City residents are going to have to bear some of that burden. Making sure that burden is fair is up the council.