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45 Percent Garbage Fee Increase Hits Residents Where it Hurts

Shocked by the new Waste Management bill? Here's what led to the 45 percent increase. [Editor's Note: We know this technically isn't "breaking news," but decided the story had deep enough community interest to send out a special alert.]

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. 

What do you think of the new rate increase? Tell us in the comments. 

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for an alert when we write about recycling and garbage issues.

Everybody makes mistakes ... ! If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at emilier@patch.com. 

Preston Jordan November 05, 2011 at 04:07 PM
I apologize for the serial commenting, but I have been considering this issue ever since learning about the impact of Albany's revenue structure from a low income Green Party member during consideration of the Albany pool, classroom and food service area construction bond measure in early 2008. Recent data supplied by PG&E to the Sustainability Committee makes clear that Albany has a low income community. From 2004 to 2010, the number of accounts qualifying for CARE, PG&E's reduced rates for low income households, increased from about 600 to about a 1,000 out of a total 7,000 accounts. So if Albany is to be a progressive city in deed and not just word, it needs to actually do something to consistently accommodate these households. In early October I finally submitted a written request to the Council and City Manager to refer consideration of a uniform policy to exempt/reduce taxes and fees for low income residents, how to effectively market that policy, and whether to lobby the State legislature to change the law that apparently prohibits municipalities from providing a reduction in bond payments for low income households. While I have received the courtesy of two replies, neither indicate effective action is going to be taken. I am amazed that the wealthiest age group in our country, seniors (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-05-20-cover-generation-wealth_N.htm), continues to get a break in Albany while the low income languish.
Ellen Hershey November 05, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Thank you, Patch. Agree that a discount for low-income households is much more important than a discount for seniors. Agree with Preston Jordan that the City needs a uniform policy about this. However, I'm a senior, and I just got my new bill with the 45% increase added, and I don't see any information about the 20% discount or how to apply for it. That's negligence. Who was supposed to provide that info? Does Waste Management enjoy a monopoly, or were there competitors who bid for our business?
Preston Jordan November 05, 2011 at 04:41 PM
Thank Ellen. This goes directly to the second of my recommendations, that the City needs not only a uniform policy on considering and incorporating exemptions/reductions for low income households, but also on how to market those exemptions. At the time of the pool bond measure, I contacted the Albany Unified School District to learn how many households had qualified for the low income accommodation with regard to its parcel tax. I don't remember the exact number, but it was less than 10! Believing that there were far more than 10 low income households in Albany, I took from this that incorporating low income accommodations is just a progressive fig leaf unless there is a serious intent to market those accommodations. I believe the data PG&E provided the city at the end of the summer vindicates this perspective as it showed there were about 800 low income qualified households in 2007/2008. I presume PG&E's program is more effective because it sends notices about the program in its bills every year, no doubt at the direction of the state regulatory agency. That said, I am not too keen on such a marketing effort for the senior exemption for the reason I provided above, which is that there is a low correlation at this time between low income and senior status. This perception seems to be an echo of societal conditions from decades past that should not enter upon reality-based policy formulation for today.
Caryl O'Keefe November 05, 2011 at 05:38 PM
Preston, thank you for sharing your efforts. Exemptions and reductions are important tools. In this instance I understood that there wasn't a lower cost provider, also that Albany residents have all been paying below market the last several years because the contract was negotiated so low initially. A few questions to better understand - what data support the statement that "..there is a low correlation at this time between low income and senior status." Is that in general or specifically in Albany? Part of the reason I ask is that yesterday's NYTimes first page has an article about "fuller" official poverty measures due to be released Monday by the Census Bureau. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/04/us/experts-say-bleak-account-of-poverty-missed-the-mark.html?pagewanted=all The article notes that the "the fuller measures have shown less poverty among children but more among older Americans, who are plagued by high medical costs." Not that the official poverty measure is necessarily the same as "low income" - that's yet another question. My overall concern is recognizing that determining appropriate exemptions/reductions is a very complex task.
Preston Jordan November 05, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Thank you for the questions and dialog Caryl. First, my understanding is based on articles regarding the national context rather than Albany specific. I doubt data on the latter is readily available. I did provide the link http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-05-20-cover-generation-wealth_N.htm above as an example of the understanding that seniors are wealthier as a group than other age segments of the population. Whether poverty is greater or lesser among seniors than purported in previous measures, the issue is measuring poverty. Seniors in need could qualify for exemptions just like everyone else in need. I just don't understand why seniors should be given a blanket exemption on an argument of poverty, instead of just making the qualifying condition actual poverty. If seniors are more impoverished as a group, then they will garner more exemptions as a group. That stated, I do understand the crass political calculus in giving seniors an exemption as a group. However that is irrelevant in the case of the Waste Management contract because it did not have to go to a public vote. And in this time, should we really be offering scarce economic resources to members of society that do not really need it?
lubov mazur November 06, 2011 at 03:45 AM
Has anyone thought about the easiest way to reduce the fee? I compost all the vegetable matter from the kitchen and garden so my green can doesn't go down to the curb every week and I could do with one half the size, recycle what seems an absurd amount in the gray can, and switched to a tiny can for everything else. The tiny can costs way less than the big maroon rolly bin. Years ago when recycling at the curb started some neighbors got variances to combine their pick-ups and each paid half because they were already recycling at a center. I have to add that it is discouraging to hear complaints about people whose peak earning years occurred in the '70's and have owned houses a long time. They aren't lucky, they are what is generally referred to as OLD.
Ross Stapleton-Gray November 06, 2011 at 03:53 AM
Lubov, if you read your bill, you're not charged for either green or gray can. But as someone else noted for me today, while they don't highlight it, you *can* switch to a smaller trash can (paying less). And we may try that.
lubov mazur November 06, 2011 at 05:54 AM
Ross When I switched to the small gray can WM didn't reduce my bill, and it took a long time to straighten it out. As a result I didn't pay a bill at all for many cycles. Now it's $44.81 for the quarter. What's the price for all the big cans? I wish the big ones were the size of the maroon one. Wrestling them down the stairs is a bother.
Ellen Hershey November 06, 2011 at 06:25 AM
Lubov, Waste Management's bill to me for 3 big cans (gray, green, brown) for the quarter is $109.11. Thanks to Ross for pointing out that WM doesn't charge for the green or gray can. Wow! the $109.11 is all for the "32 gal toter s/l": if that's the brown one, I can definitely get by with a smaller one.
ralph November 07, 2011 at 04:59 PM
Waste Management told me the 20 gal can service is $97.44 quarter, compared to the 109.11 for the usual 32 gal can. Only a $12 savings per quarter. I don't see any way to get the sweet deal of $44.81 Lubov talks about, even with a 20% discount.
lubov mazur November 07, 2011 at 06:12 PM
Ralph My little can is 5 gallons. It had nothing in it this wek and didn't go down to the curb.
Sarah Robson November 07, 2011 at 06:40 PM
I don't have a huge problem with increasing rates a little at a time if it's helping us divert more trash to recycling. But a 45% increase all at once and a little note on the bill saying "more details to follow" being all the info that Waste Management gives us about the reasons and the changes? Doesn't seem like good PR to me!
ralph November 07, 2011 at 07:57 PM
Our neighbor city Berkeley seems to have a clearer statement about the different can sizes and how much they cost, along with lower prices. http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=7770 13 Gallon $11.54 20 Gallon $17.72 32 Gallon $28.34 45 Gallon $39.84 64 Gallon $56.65 96 Gallon $84.95
Ellen Hershey November 07, 2011 at 09:01 PM
I just called Waste Management (510-613-8710) to apply for the senior discount. Turns out they mail you an application, and they start applying the discount only after they receive your returned application. You can't apply over the phone or on-line or even download the application on-line. They certainly are not promoting the availability of this discount, and I will be asking City staff whether their process conforms with the terms of their contract. The person I spoke to confirmed that the 20-gal. trash can costs $97.44 per quarter. She said it has no wheels--ugh. She said that I can apply for a 10-gal. trash can, which would cost $48.72 per quarter, but that after I submit my paper application to EBMUD, EBMUD will submit it to the City for the City's approval before I get the 10-gal. can and the lower fee. Why the City has to approve it, I don't know. I will be checking on this with City staff too.
lubov mazur November 07, 2011 at 10:10 PM
They will e mail you the form -- it takes 3 days. By post it takes 3 days for them to mail you the forms. It's like " O Brother Where Art Thou"; all clerical functions are 3 days from everywhere.
Preston Jordan November 07, 2011 at 11:18 PM
Pertinent to whether Albany should have a policy of targeting reductions to those in financial need rather than only to any senior that applies, the front page of the West County Times had an article this morning noting that senior heads of household have on average 47 times more wealth than under 35 year old heads of households (http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_19280697?IADID=Search-www.contracostatimes.com-www.contracostatimes.com). The article notes demographers believe this to be the highest ratio ever, including before the period of definitive record keeping.
lubov mazur November 07, 2011 at 11:42 PM
Not always.
Margaret Tong November 07, 2011 at 11:52 PM
I have just put out my buckets and in a wee while the bottle thieves will come round and rifle through my recycling bucket and take the bottles. If I see anyone diving head first into my bucket, as they do, I am going to ask them to pay me for the bottles they are taking. I expect to get laughed at. I wish I could rig some jack-in-the-box device that would give them a wee fright when they open the lid.. But I'm stuck with the increase, senior or not
City of Albany November 08, 2011 at 12:01 AM
Clarification regarding discounted rates for Seniors and smaller sized containers: Waste Management administers all Senior discounts and service level changes. Seniors 62 years and older qualify for a 20% discount on services. Waste Management will provide an application form to seniors, which requires proof of age. The date that Waste Management receives the form back is the date the senior rate will be initiated (if it is in between a billing cycle, a credit will be posted for the months already paid as of the date the application was recieved and approved by Waste Management). The contact number for Waste Management customer service is (510)613-8710. 20-gallon containers for trash are requested by calling Waste Management. Note - these cans do not have wheels. A 10-gallon can can also be requested, however there is a form required to ensure that the user generates minimal trash. The intent behind this is to ensure that the trash is not being placed in the recycling/organics carts which could contaminate the truckload of recyclable/compostable materials. Current rates can be found on the City's website at: http://www.albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=134
Emilie Raguso November 08, 2011 at 07:26 AM
Interesting comment from Mayor Javandel at Monday's City Council meeting. He said that initially the council was very concerned about the rate increase. He continued: "It takes some getting used to. At first glance you're like: this can't be right. But we ultimately decided it was probably as good a deal as we were going to get."
Catherine (Kate) Rauch November 08, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Interesting look at age and poverty by Kathleen Pender in SF Gate. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/11/08/BUNP1LRN7V.DTL&tsp=1
Maureen November 08, 2011 at 06:15 PM
This is more a comment about discounts than about the Waste Management rate hike. I am a Senior and feel a bit uncomfortable about the knee-jerk discounts offered to all Seniors simply because of age. Many Seniors find financial resources limited during retirement, and getting some help making ends meet is well received. However, many of us had careers as well-paid professionals and were able to put away a good nest egg. To insure that discounts go where they will do the most good, maybe there should be a better way of establishing need than simply using an age criteria?
Ellen Hershey November 08, 2011 at 10:44 PM
Preston, I agree that income level would be a much fairer basis than age for providing discounts for WM service or anything else. But the Pew study being cited in the news is a bad one, causing divisive headlines pitting the younger generation against the older generation. Net worth is a poor basis for comparing the economic well-being of the young vs. the old. The young have the potential for future earnings and asset accumulation; the old mostly don't. Shockingly, the Pew study ignores the massive shift in the private sector since the early 1980's from employers providing traditional pensions, which are not counted in individual net worth, to providing 401(k) plans, which do count. Who's better off--Pew's 1984 median retiree with net worth of $120,457 plus a company pension, or the 2009 retiree with net worth of $170,494 and no pension? Income is a better measure: "In 2008, the median [Social Security] beneficiary 65 or older had a total household income of about $20,000 a year, most of it from Social Security. Married-couple beneficiaries had a median income of about $35,000, while non-married beneficiaries had just $15,000." Social Security data cited in http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3368 (see Section 3 on the decline in pensions since 1980). New poverty calculations show 16% of 65+ Americans in poverty--as high as any other age group but children. http://bottomline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/11/07/8680598-new-data-show-grim-picture-of-poverty
sg November 10, 2011 at 08:37 PM
As of this AM, Waste management operator has no idea about any compost giveaways.
sg November 10, 2011 at 08:48 PM
How hard did they try? Albany is a very small city. Did they look into setting up a city-owned service? Or a timed rate hike so it doesn't hit everyone all at once in one month? Did they look at WM's books to see how much their costs had really increased? What if the price of gas goes down (ha ha)? Do we get a discount then? Doesn't sound like they tried very hard to get a good deal for Albany.
Ross Stapleton-Gray November 10, 2011 at 09:31 PM
fwiw, you can get free coffee grounds (large amounts, I would imagine) from Peet's... I've been tempted, as I think the acidity would counteract some of the pH issues of EBMUD water, but have never gotten around to it.
lubov mazur November 12, 2011 at 06:44 AM
Ross I have left a pail and lid (with my name and number) at Starbucks. Drop it off in the morning and pick it up in the evening because they can not hold it over night in the store, and two buckets lest you leave a clean one for the next day. I don't think the worms got any sleep for months in my compost bin, but the compost was fantastic.
D. Mehrten November 22, 2011 at 07:26 AM
I want to thank everybody who is getting the word out concerning the discounts available. I also want to ask the City why this information was not disseminated widely BEFORE the November 1 effective rate increase.
Emilie Raguso November 22, 2011 at 10:45 AM
For those who missed the story, "You Ask: How Can I Lower My Higher Garbage Bill?" see it here: http://patch.com/A-nQG5
Emilie Raguso February 17, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Courtesy of one local resident, we've just attached the form you need to apply for the smallest bin (10-gallon bin: $16.24 (no wheels)). It's the final document in the PDF section above.

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