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Explanations given for a whopping 46 percent fee hike at the Salt Lake Valley Landfill are garbage, according to West Valley Mayor Jerry Wright.

He and other critics asserted this week that Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City officials have not only failed to justify the increase, they have yet to give a detailed accounting of what will be done with the more than $2 million the fee hike will generate each year.From what little is known, they said, it appears West Valley residents and other landfill users, including South Salt Lake, will be subsidizing programs that benefit only Salt Lake City and the unincorporated county.

"It brings up that whole dark issue of which services and revenues are countywide and which are strictly municipal," said South Salt Lake Mayor Randy Fitts. "If there is a good, logical explanation for the increase, we can support it, but if the figure was just picked out of the air to benefit Salt Lake and the unincorporated area, it's not fair to everybody else."

The County Commission and Salt Lake City Council voted in December to raise the tipping fee at the landfill from $13 to $19 per ton, a price hike that went into effect last month. Commission Chairman Jim Bradley cast the sole no vote, saying the huge increase smacked of "price gouging."

In a letter sent to commissioners this week, Wright echoed that sentiment, saying the only explanation for the increase he has received to date is that "the market will bear it."

For the approximately 90,000 residents of Utah's second largest city, the increase translates to an extra $9.60 per year in garbage-collection fees. South Salt Lake experienced a similar 80-cent-per-household increase in collection costs. Salt Lake City and County will also be paying the higher tipping fees, but the money, in effect, flows from one pocket to the other.

Wright said the increase might have been "somewhat explainable" to West Valley residents if the higher fee had been a result of federal mandates, increased operating costs or some program to benefit all residents of the county.

However, the mayor said the county and Salt Lake City apparently intend to use at least half of the extra money for recycling programs that benefit only the unincorporated area. Landfill fees have traditionally been limited to the amount required to operate the landfill, Wright said.

Roger Black, director of Salt Lake City's management services, said the city anticipates it will receive $1.1 million from the increase. He said $450,000 will cover the higher tipping fee charged to the city itself, with the remaining $650,000 going toward recycling initiatives and diversion projects.

According to Black, $325,000 will be allocated to a countywide household hazardous waste collection system.

With Salt Lake City and County now apparently reaping a profit from the landfill, Wright and Fitts are raising questions about who really owns the landfill and who has the right to set the rates. Based on a preliminary legal assessment, West Valley believes the tipping fees can't be raised without its concurrence, Wright said.

If the landfill is a countywide asset - rather than the property of the unincorporated county - then West Valley residents and all other users share in its ownership, Wright argues. And even if it began as non-countywide asset, the landfill is now financed in part by West Valley residents, which means they deserve a share of the revenues.

Wright said he wants a "full written accounting" of the revenues generated by the fee hike and "the specific expenditures to be made of those revenues."