Despite reduction efforts, trash rates could rise

Despite reduction efforts, trash rates could rise

Michele Ellson

Alamedans have been hugely responsive to calls to divert trash from landfills, with 95 percent of residents in single-family homes and small apartment complexes dumping 32 gallons of garbage each week or less. Despite those successes, the city’s residents and businesses could soon see their garbage bills increase, with residents who have reduced their trash output the most seeing some of the largest growth in rates.

Most residential customers would see their bills from hauler Alameda County Industries rise 6 percent under the proposed increases, though residents who have 20-gallon trash bins – the smallest available – would see their rates rise about 17 percent.

Commercial customers’ rate increases would vary, though businesses employing the most common bin size – a cubic yard – would see monthly rates rise by about $7.50, to $133.33. Businesses using 20-gallon trash bins would see service rise by $10.08 a month, a 70 percent increase.

The City Council, which is contractually required to approve new rate ceilings for the trash hauler each year, deferred approval of new rates Tuesday. They are now planning to consider the rates, which were to take effect on July 1, at a July 23 meeting.

The city’s contract with ACI requires the council to set rates based on costs once every three years, though the council has done so more frequently.

While the amount of trash Alamedans are sending to the landfill has declined dramatically over the past decade, the cost to get it there has not, a consultant hired by the city to assess Alameda County Industries’ requested rate increases said Tuesday.

It costs $40 a month to collect trash from a single family home, the consultant, Rick Simonson of HF&H, told the council Tuesday. But the vast majority of residential homeowners, who have converted to smaller trash bins, pay less than that – $23.80 a month for 20-gallon bins and $33.02 for 32-gallon bins.

Alameda lacks the commercial base necessary to subsidize those rates, Simonson said, and the rates they pay for comparable service are lower than what homeowners are paying. A handful of businesses using 20-gallon bins pay $13.83 a month for trash collection while those with 32-gallon bins pay $23.05 – rates Simonson said should be equal to those paid by homeowners.

Alameda’s rates are higher than San Leandro’s, the other city that uses ACI, with typical residential service costing Alamedans about $8 more per month under existing rates. Simonson said that city has more businesses – which produce more trash – to subsidize residential rates; Alameda also charges ACI higher franchise fees than San Leandro, he said.

ACI had subsidized recycling efforts in the past by reselling the reusable materials the company collected, but the market for those materials – notably, paper – collapsed, leading the company to request more money from the city in 2009. The city is supposed to be reaping a percentage of those revenues, but they weren’t included in the hauler’s cost calculations and it was unclear Tuesday whether the city has earned any money from recyclable sales.

Simonson said that rate increases have not kept pace with costs and without the proposed increases, ACI would take in $1.6 million less than it expects to spend to collect Alameda’s trash, recyclables and yard waste this year.

Mayor Marie Gilmore said the trend toward conservation mirrors other efforts to cut down electricity use and save water but in all of those industries, the costs of providing services continue to rise. And Miss Alameda Jessica Robinson, who is spearheading an effort to get local restaurants to compost their food scraps, said she and the community group Community Action for Sustainable Alameda support the increases.

“We need to make sure the rates cover the costs,” Robinson said.

But other council members said the existing rate structure reflects a desire to promote recycling efforts, and they were loath to remove what they see as an incentive to produce less trash.

“We need to find ways to incentivize people to recycle. That’s the endgame here,” Councilwoman Lena Tam said.

Councilman Stewart Chen asked whether everyone should see the same rate increase, while Vice Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft suggested raising rates further for residents who use larger trash bins, who pay less per gallon of trash than residents who use smaller bins.

“It’s almost like you’re getting a discount for having more garbage,” Ezzy Ashcraft said.

Separately, city staffers are working on an overhaul of Alameda’s contract with ACI, which is in effect through 2022; City Manager John Russo said a new contract could help reflect a desire to support efforts to reduce waste. The contract could be before the council in the fall.


Submitted by knealy on Wed, Jul 3, 2013

I don't understand the rate chart at the end. The legend indicates current and proposed rates, but it shows a gray dot and a white dot and they don't correspond to anything on the chart that I can tell.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Jul 3, 2013

Hi K: If you click the circle for proposed rates you'll see the the proposed rates, and if you're interested in current rates, you can toggle back to those by clicking that circle.