Despite efforts by a supervisor to delay action until cost-cutting measures can be considered, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday held a public hearing on May 10 on a series of proposed cost-cutting fee hikes. garbage collection in unincorporated communities in Riverside County.
The board will consider aggregate increases exceeding about 8% sought by the county’s four contracted waste haulers – Burrtec Waste, CR&R Inc., Desert Valley Disposal and Waste Management Inc.
According to Environmental Health Department Director Jeff Johnson, the adjustments are needed to keep pace with inflation, which federal consumer price data showed jumped 8.6% between January 2021 and January. 2022 in the region. Waste haulers are allowed to apply for rate adjustments each year based on increases in landfill, transportation and other costs.
“Our area has a very high consumer price index,” supervisor Karen Spiegel said. “Who knew six months ago that we would see these growing increases in inflation?”
Spiegel said the “difficult financial times” demanded that the council do “the best on behalf of our residents”, and she said that based on this, a study session should be convened before any public hearing on increasing waste collection rates.
“We have to look at the big picture, not just piecemeal,” the supervisor said. “We are not having this conversation on behalf of our constituents. We have to do what is best for them. »
The board rarely denies requests for adjustment. However, in 2020, Supervisor Kevin Jeffries opposed the increases, arguing that financial hardships related to coronavirus public health lockdowns made it an inopportune time to increase fees for county residents. The increases were approved despite his opposition.
Burrtec’s hike would lower monthly customer rates from an average of $26.60 to $28.07. Residents served by CR&R would see their bills go from $27.37 to $39.34 to between $29.64 and $42.65.
Desert Valley Disposal customers would drop from $27.49 to $29.52 on average, and Waste Management’s new rate structure would drop from $23.36 to $26.16 to between $25.37 and $28.41 per month for residential collections, according to the Department of Environmental Health.
Garbage collection for the county takes place in defined “franchise zones”, which currently number 11 and encompass communities such as Bermuda Dunes, Cabazon, Desert Center, East Hemet, French Valley, Lakeland Village, Nuevo, Thermal, Thousand Palms and Winchester. Most existing franchise agreements have been in place since the 1990s.
Jeffries questioned whether municipalities, which negotiate separate service agreements with waste haulers, will face the same cost pressures, and Johnson acknowledged that their terms could be different.
Jeffries said one of the reasons the county recently warned waste haulers that their franchise agreements would be terminated in six years was to have some bargaining power to negotiate better rates.
Johnson and Department of Waste Resources Director Hans Kernkamp told the board that state regulations are also fueling higher landfill costs that will be passed on to consumers. On Jan. 1, Senate Bill 1383 went into effect, requiring organic waste — mostly discarded food — to be reduced or diverted to save space and reduce methane pollution.
The state’s goal is a 75% reduction from 2014 levels of organic waste in landfills by 2025.
To meet compliance mandates to separate organics from other waste, as well as to address inflationary pressures, the Department of Waste Resources is seeking fee increases of more than 8% – in some cases three or four times that. amount – for unloading bulk and other waste in landfills.
The council is expected to consider these fee increases at a separate hearing on May 24.
“We have the highest inflation we’ve seen in decades, and then you add SB 1383 to the mix, and it’s the perfect storm,” said board chairman Jeff Hewitt. “There are so many things we can push people through in these trying times.”
A CR&R representative told the board that the company remains prepared to answer “very difficult and difficult questions” before any fee increases are authorized, but requested that the hearing continue on 10 May without a study session, because otherwise CR&R would potentially be burdened. by paying higher disposal rates with no way to pass those costs on to customers.
Hewitt voted to keep the schedule on track, and supervisors Jeffries and Manuel Perez agreed. Spiegel voted against the hearing schedule. Supervisor Chuck Washington was absent from the meeting.