The Ceres City Council on Monday ordered a protest hearing to occur on Monday, Nov. 23 over proposed increases in garbage collection rates in Ceres.
The city contracts with Bertolotti Ceres Disposal for garbage pickup and disposal services. Rates have not been raised since 2012. Because of laws passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by the governor mandating the recycling of organic wastes and recyclable materials, rates are going up.
To meet the new state mandates, the city plans to go to a three-can system on Jan. 1, 2022. To pull that off, Bertolotti must purchase 12,000 new containers and buy two new trucks. Those added costs for the company will be passed onto the ratepayers over five years, beginning on Jan. 1, 2021. A second increase will follow on Sept. 1, 2021. Additional five percent increases are expected to follow on Jan. 1, 2022, Jan. 1, 2023 and Jan. 1, 2024. Public Works Director Jeremy Damas said the first increase amounts to an extra $7 per month on the monthly garbage bill.
Before cities can increase rates for services, Prop. 218 requires a protest hearing to be held. Citizens may object to a rate hike, but under Prop. 218 at least half of affected residents must object to stop such an increase. Notices will be mailed to residents beginning Oct. 1.
Before the vote was taken, Councilman Channce Condit asked the council to consider offsetting the rate increases by lowering other rates.
“Maybe we can be creative, if we look at our water rates for instance, if there’s a way we can lower rates at the same time that we have to raise these (garbage rates) due to an unfunded mandate by the state I think that would be a great opportunity for us and a great opportunity for the residents,” said Condit.
Damas said he spent a lot of time with Bertolotti company officials and an analyst hashing over the rates and said “unfortunately with the state mandates for the organics program we have to buy 12,000 Toters and a couple of trucks – that’s what this first increase does.” Additional increases help pay for extra costs of labor.
Condit asked City Manager Tom Westbrook if there was a way to lower water rates in perpetuity and was told that rates are based on operational and capital improvement costs.
Condit pressed for any other areas where rates could be cut, to which Westbrook replied, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Despite the input of staff, the councilman – in the midst of a campaign to run for county supervisor – asked the council to “hold off on this and we can come up with a clever way to try to find a rate that we can lower by that amount to offset this cost.”
Councilman Mike Kline said the city bases monthly rates on the actual cost of service. He asked who would take the hit from the state if the city didn’t follow the mandates of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). Damas said the city could face state fines of $5,000 per day through AB 1383 for not complying. He said if rates aren’t increased then the general fund could take the hit.
Vice Mayor Linda Ryno said nobody on the council wants to see residents pay more for garbage service but reiterated her belief that after examining what other cities’ residents are paying the proposed higher rates “really aren’t that bad in comparison.” She said there is no purpose in putting off the inevitable.
Mayor Chris Vierra appeared irritated at Condit’s repeated request, hinting that it’s against the law to manipulate fees for services to offset an increase in another.
“I don’t like raising rates,” said Vierra. “The only reason we’re doing it is because the state is forcing us to do it. Any rate that any ratepayer is paying today is based on actual costs of anticipated infrastructure and work that needs to be done. So if we go to lower some rate you can’t just give it to another department because that rate was set based on work that was identified to be done. So if we are not going to do that work we in theory would have to give that money back to the public and could not be using that for something else … it’s against the law.”
After a citizen only identified as “Rosa” chastised Vierra as being cavalier, the mayor commented that citizens who don’t like the rate increase “they shouldn’t be voting for the people that they place in Sacramento.”
Currently residential garbage collection rates in Ceres are $21.16 per month for a 90-gallon Toters, which includes a $16.90 garbage fee, $1.74 fee for recyclables and $2.52 for organics and a small portion for street sweeping dumping, and the leaf and limb and bulky item programs. Those rates will increase to $26.32 per month this fall, which includes an extra $1 per month to cover the city’s costs of cleaning up and disposing of illegal dumping. The new charge is one of the recommendations of the new Beautification Committee.
In September 2021 the rates would jump to $31.77 per month for garbage service. Damas said that second rate increase would be timed with the end of the leaf-and-limb program in exchange of a third waste-wheeler in January 2022.
Seven dollars of the increase is caused by the state mandate to expand the recycling of organics which is causing Bertolotti to buy 12,000 new garbage cans.
Provisions with lower pricing will be offered to residents who want to get by with a 60-gallon household waste can. Garbage rates for those with a 60-gallon container will increase from $16.44 to $21.60 per month.
Under the three-can system, recyclables such as cardboard, phone books, magazines and newsprint, brown paper bags, glass bottles and jars, plastic containers, office paper, empty aerosol cans and certain plastics go into the blue can. The green can will be for the deposit of organic wastes like yard and garden waste, lawn clippings, leaves, limbs, coffee grounds, fruit, leftover foods, meat, paper towels and plates and small pieces of wood. The black can will be for household waste that doesn’t belong in either the organic or recycling cans.