The Cost of Trash

Most of us probably don't think about the cost of trash, but what we put in the bins has a cost to the city, and that means you and me. On December 20th, the city council voted to approve an increase of $1.89 to solid waste over the next three years. This means our rate will go up from $23.12 to $25.01 per month (over three years). One piece of bright news for you minimalists is that if you have the standard 96-gallon gray can and can get by with the smaller 45-gallon gray can (blue and green cans remain 96 gallons) you can drop your rate from $23.12 to $21.49. So instead of an increased rate, you can reduce your current bill by $1.63 per month. If you’re interested call the Solid Waste Utility at (530) 224-6201 to change out, your gray can and realize the reduced rate now. There may be some delay in getting the smaller can to your house because of workload.

When the utility rate advisory group evaluated the needs of solid waste, they looked at both the cost and the quality of service. What is the cost now, and what will happen to costs over the next three years? Industry standard (for health and safety) is to pick up gray cans weekly, but could we get by with picking up blue and green cans every other week as some cities do? Although this would meet the needs of some customers, there are many who fill their blue and green cans weekly. Forcing every other week service onto everyone could result in recyclables and green waste being diverted into the weekly gray can pick up. The state has mandated that we increase our diversion from the gray cans (62% currently) to 75% by 2020, so bottom line - we need to pick up blue and green cans weekly.

What about the cost of service? Public utilities rates are based on the actual cost to provide that service and are collected from the utility rate payers and put into fire-walled accounts called the Enterprise Funds. These funds can only be used for operation, maintenance, and capital improvements for the utilities. General Fund monies (primarily sales tax, property tax, and TOT) are not budgeted for your trash, water or sewer costs, neither do the fees you pay for utilities cover parks or public safety. These funds are completely separate. The utility rate advisory group looked at the cost to provide solid waste service and recommended this increase (47 cents per week) to cover costs. Inflation means that a garbage truck (lifespan of about 7-10 years) now costs $350K. Your trash cans cost more; tipping fees have gone up, etc. The solid waste utility is not adding new staff with this cost increase. The salary of an average Redding solid waste truck driver is about $48K (About 19 percent less than comparable cities).

The biggest area of contention (from my emails) has been with the additional charge of $4 per month for those who want a second green bin. Currently, the city has allowed a second green bin at no charge. The reality, however, is that a second bin costs about a dollar per week to pick up, transport, and dispose. The city is only able to compost about 30% of our green bin waste. Yes, the city does sell that composted material (I’ve gotten 10 yards a couple of times, and it’s nice stuff), which does help defray some of the cost. Unfortunately, we have to pay to dispose of the other 70%. We - means you and me. If you only use the second bin occasionally that $4 per month extra charge may not be worth it to you. The city does not currently have a way to charge you for just the weeks you use the second green can. The increased cost to buy software to measure that use and bill it out is not currently feasible. If you do use a second green bin, then to be fair, you should pay for that extra use. If you have two green bins your single-can neighbors are paying for you to have two. Imagine you were at the grocery store and the guy at the register in front of you tells the clerk he only wants to pay $35, but his bill is $40. He tells the clerk to add it onto the bill of the person behind him, which means you. I don’t know about you, but I would resent that. The same principle applies to having a second green bin. I have 100 roses, numerous fruit trees, and a large perennial bed. No one is holding a gun to my head, forcing me to have all of these plants. I could take them out and put in something that didn’t produce as much green waste (I get by with one green bin, sometimes holding stuff over for the next week). Mulching leaves, grass clippings and composting are all ways to reduce green waste and improve your soil.

I know it’s painful, but it’s fair. If you have a second green bin and don’t want to be charged for it, you have until the end of January to call the Solid Waste Utility, (530) 224-6201 and let them know you’d like the extra bin picked up. It might take a few weeks, but you won’t be charged the extra $4/month.

No one wants a rate increase. The question is do we need to increase rates to cover the cost of service? I believe the answer is yes. Even with these rate increases, our solid waste rates are some of the lowest in the north state - $11.52/mo less than ten comparable cities. Our solid waste rates also pay for street sweeping and reimburse our streets department for pavement repair resulting from the garbage trucks on our streets. I’m not speaking for the rest of the city council, but bottom line - I believe these cost increases are fair and justified.


Why the Increased Rates for Water, Sewer and Trash?

The city council just recently approved a rate increase for trash, water, and wastewater and we voted 5-0 to approve. I want to explain why I voted yes because I know that many are upset with the increase. It would have been so easy to vote no, because who wants a rate increase? I don’t want a colonoscopy. I don’t want to pay for home or auto insurance, but these are things I “need” to do to steward my health and protect my assets. So it is with our utilities.

Increased costs occur around every area of our life - food, prescriptions, fuel, labor. Utilities are no exception. To me the question was never do we “want” a rate increase, but do we “need” a rate increase. If we don’t increase our rates what happens to our level of service and infrastructure? There are utility districts and cities who have kept their rates below the actual cost of service and their infrastructures are now failing. They have left a disaster for the next generation, and I see that as failed stewardship. I decided early on, before I was elected, that I would do what was right, not what was popular. Rate increases are right. If you do not pay for what you use, you are pushing your costs on to someone else. Public utilities are just that. They are public. That means we own them. And when you own something you are responsible to steward it.

Public Utilities are billed and paid for through the Enterprise Fund, which is completely separate from the General Fund. When you pay your utilities you are paying for the actual cost for that service. In other words, monies from the General Fund can not be used to subsidize your water or power bill and the monies collected for these services can not be used to pay for General Fund expenses like police and fire. If we don’t each pay for our utility use, what we’re really asking is to have our neighbors pay it, and that is neither ethical or fair. I’ve heard some say the “City” should pay for the increases. The City is me and you and our neighbors. There is no other city we can bill.

Are the rates necessary and are they reflective of actual need? That was my primary question. Did you know that there was a public advisory group that met 6 times to answer those questions? These rate increases were made after reviewing detailed data and with input from your peers. These seven individuals, several of whom I know to be rate increase adverse, came to the conclusion that these rates increases were necessary to preserve our utilities. Every year we have to replace pipes, valves, trash cans, trash trucks, etc. These costs are not static. There will always be rate increases. That is the nature of inflation and reflects the real world around us. To expect otherwise is unrealistic.

I have easily spent 40 plus hours and have 10 pages of notes from my conversations and questions with our Director of Public Works, Brian Crane. I know that rate increase are painful, and I wanted to be sure that we were keeping these increases as low as possible without compromising our infrastructure. I can tell you in all honesty, that we could not have someone more ethical and concerned for our citizens and the quality of our infrastructure than Brian Crane.

Could you live somewhere else cheaper? I’m sure you could. You could live out in the county and put in your own well, manage your own septic tank, take your trash to the dump. But how many of us want to do that? If we want the convenience of having our trash picked up weekly, clean water, properly treated wastewater, we have to pay for it. Are we paying a fair and reasonable rate? Absolutely, and I want to keep it that way. From the graph below you can see our rates are $11.46/month lower than average for comparable cities, even with the increase.

We can gripe, but the reality is that utility rates in Redding are conservative, considering we have infrastructure spread out over 60 square miles. Over the next couple of weeks I will post info on each utility, breaking down the increases for those of you who were not able to attend the 3 public presentations. Notices about those public hearings were mailed to you with your utility bill. Let's talk trash next time!