Many readers have written in this week, surprised and angered by the 45 percent rate increase announced in this month's Waste Management bill.
The average monthly fee jumped from about $25 up to $36, bringing quarterly payments to more than $100. In these tough economic times, where paycuts, furloughs and hiring freezes have left many cold, a number of residents have said the increase feels like a slap in the face.
But the higher rate, officials explained, is the result of more than a year of negotiations, and some consideration of alternatives, that led to a new 10-year solid waste collection agreement with Waste Management of Alameda County, approved by the city in October.
On Oct. 17, approved the agreement 4-1, with the lone dissenting vote.
"We're asking ratepayers to ensure the necessary operating costs, including labor," she said, estimating trash hauler salaries at $100,000 to $130,000 per person, including benefits. "I have a real problem with this at this point in time. We're asking our employees, including our first responders, to take cuts, and pay for their own benefits. We're being asked to ask ratepayers to pay for ongoing labor costs of a third party. I'm very troubled about that. I just don't think that's good public policy at this point, when we're asking every single public employee to do something different."
SERVICE COULD BE BETTER, RESIDENTS SAY
Residents at the meeting pointed to a failure by Waste Management to collect garbage thoroughly at the ; noted pervasive problems with haulers leaving bins in the streets; and asked why the city didn't simply extend the existing franchise agreement over the next two years, as was provided for in the former agreement.
Staff said that continuing to investigate options was a possibility, but that it would take more time and resources, after an already lengthy process, with no guarantee of better rates in the end.
The contract with Waste Management was last negotiated in 2003. Since then, said Albany's environmental specialist, Nicole Almaguer, there have been minimal rate increases. At the same time, service needs have changed and costs of waste removal have risen.
Rates, she wrote in an email to Albany Patch just prior to the Oct. 17 meeting, would likely be on the rise regardless of the hauler, as Albany's 2003 agreement was "outdated," and hadn't kept pace with annual operating costs for the industry.
At the Oct. 3 City Council meeting, Dominic Chiovare, president of the Teamsters Local 70 union, pointed out several changes to service since the last contract, such as increased demand for recycling and green waste disposal.
He also brought up rising health care and fuel costs as a driving factor in the spike. Of fuel costs, he said, "Nobody could have predicted (they) would get so high.”
(Waste Management is currently making the switch to alternative fuel vehicles.)
RELIEF FOR SOME
The city attempted to negotiate a discounted rate for low-income residents, but Waste Management would not agree to it. But Almaguer said, via email, that Albany is not alone. Fewer than half the cities in Alameda County receive a low-income discount, she said.
Waste Management did concede to a 20 percent discount for customers 62 years and older.
The new agreement caps the annual rate increase at 7.5 percent. Almaguer wrote in the Oct. 17 staff report that the increase was expected to be closer to 3.54-7.93 percent. At most, the company can raise rates 10 percent annually, but anything beyond a 7.5 percent increase will roll over into the following year.
As a result of the higher rate, the city will receive $11,000 per month in franchise fees.
NEW SERVICES WILL CLOSE THE "CAP" GAP
The new agreement includes a number of innovative services. Albany will receive 15 solar-powered trash and recycling compactors along its major avenues, which the city says will “collect an increased amount of trash and recycling.”
Another motivation for the changes, said Almaguer, is Albany's , or "CAP," which outlines a "zero waste" diversion goal of 90 percent. At this time, the city and green waste.
(In June, Waste Management reported that the city kept out of the dump.)
- Among its services to help close the gap, Waste Management will accept all plastics, other than hangers and utensils, within the curbside recycling container.
- The city will implement an outreach program focused on increasing waste diversion in multifamily residences.
- Single-family residences will be able to use curbside recycling for household batteries, fluorescent bulbs and mobile phones.
- There will be one annual on-call bulky item pickup, with an optional second pickup.
- Residents will be able to participate in two compost giveaway events per year.
- To help with new programs and services, Waste Management will provide $4,500 per month for additional staffing.
The agreement also includes new strike provisions for haulers who are part of the Teamsters Local 70. The city negotiated a provision for missed service days, in the event of a strike, from 10 days down to five for residential services, as well as commercial recycling services. The contract ensures a service gap of not more than two days for trash and organics services for businesses.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Almaguer said Friday that the city is working on outreach materials to be mailed to residents in the coming weeks. The mailing will detail new service offerings, materials that can be recycled, opportunities for decreased trash service levels, and upcoming events such as compost giveaways.
For more information about the new services and outreach programs, read the city release here. To find out even more, see the new rate chart and staff report, which are attached above as PDFs. All related documents from the June, July and Oct. 3 meetings appear above as well.
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