A City of Tucson trash container awaits pickup on North Christmas Ave. on Friday, Oct. 12, 2017. Winterhaven residents, unlike other Tucson residents, get two curbside trash pickups each week.
A number of features set Winterhaven apart from other Tucson neighborhoods—most famously its holiday festival of lights. But its lush green landscapes are also atypical for Tucson—an anachronism made possible by the Winterhaven Water and Development Company (WWDC), the resident-owned water cooperative that nourishes its members’ lawns with cheap groundwater.
Winterhaven residents get a special deal on their garbage service too, thanks to an unusual arrangement between the WWCD and the City of Tucson. While most homes in the city receive curbside trash pickup once per week, Winterhaven’s trash is collected twice weekly—every Monday and Thursday. And while city residents outside of Winterhaven receive two brush and bulky pickups per year, Winterhaven residents get one each month, according to documents provided by the city’s Environmental Services department in response to a public records request.
Winterhaven residents pay the same rates as other city customers for the regular level of trash service—a tiered system that charges $15, $16, or $16.75 per month, depending on container size. This includes once-weekly trash pickups, plus two brush and bulky pickups per year. The additional weekly pickups, plus the additional monthly brush and bulky pickups, are paid for by the the WWDC on a monthly basis, according to City of Tucson spokesperson Lane Mandle.
The WWDC passes the city’s charge for the extra service onto its customers through its own billing system.
Mandle said the WWDC has been billed $2,052 per month for the additional service since 2010 and that city records show 270 pickup locations—amounts that work out to $7.60 per month per location. The city billed WWDC for lower amounts prior to 2010, according to Mandle. WWDC was billed $1,755 per month between 2004 and 2008. The rate was increased to about $1,841 per month in 2009, then to the current monthly rate of $2,052 in 2010, she said.
Fee schedules for city trash collection services are set by Mayor and Council, and these appear in Chapter 15 of the Tucson City Code. But the city’s fee schedules do not appear to authorize the rates being charged to WWDC.
Asked about the basis for WWDC’s special rate, Mandle said “it’s based on a tonnage,” an answer echoed by Environmental Services spokesperson Cristina Polsgrove when asked the same question. Neither could provide the per-ton rate upon which the monthly charge is based, although Polsgrove provided a document from 2008 suggesting indicating that about 82 tons of refuse and 29 tons of brush and bulky material were collected during that year.
No per-ton rate appears in either the residential or commercial collection fee schedule. The latter authorizes additional weekly refuse collection for $25 per pickup per customer, and special brush and bulky pickups of up to 10 cubic yards for $55 per event.
Neither Mandle nor Polsgrove could say whether the amount billed to the WWDC reflects the cost of service in providing weekly refuse collection and monthly brush and bulky collection for the neighborhood’s 270 homes, though Polsgrove noted that the arrangement dates back to before the city’s Environmental Services department became an enterprise fund in 2004.
In the terminology of municipal government, an enterprise fund is one that allows all of a service’s expenses to be recovered by user fees, making the service self-sustaining and not dependent on tax revenue. Environmental Services and Tucson Water are both enterprise funds.
Because Environmental Services is an enterprise fund, if the expense of providing Winterhaven’s additional service is not covered by the amount billed to WWDC, it must be absorbed by other city Environmental Services customers.
Polsgrove noted that the regular monthly fees for residential customers include more than just refuse collection. Residents also receive weekly recycling collection, twice-annual brush and bulky collection, household hazardous waste disposal, and a number of other services.
Requests via phone and email to the WWDC for an interview were not answered.