Like most cities in San Mateo County, Belmont and Foster City updated their citywide solid waste collection rates for 2014 which means Belmont will raise its rates by 12.15 percent while Foster City only raised its by 2.9 percent.
There are many factors that contribute to the differences in rate increases, including planning from previous years, residential behaviors and geography of the city.
Trash rate adjustments are fueled by pending state mandates to reduce the amount of waste cities and counties generate. The state currently requires a 50 percent diversion of solid waste and increases to 75 percent in 2020.
In keeping these requirements in mind, many local cities switched trash service providers. Most San Mateo County cities are members of the South Bayside Waste Management Authority, also known as RethinkWaste.
In 2011, SBWMA left its former contractor Allied Waste and began to use Recology. Since that transition, trash rates have been affected by factors such as migration surcharges, franchise fees and reconciling balances owed to Allied Waste. Part of the transition included purchasing new bins, providing residents with compost collection and providing more frequent pickups. The transition resulted in an initial 29 percent increase in rates for most cities.
Each city has an individual service contract with Recology, so the councils determine how to balance their public works’ budgets through rate increases each year.
In September, the SBWMA approved a 0.2 percent increase in Recology’s compensation for next year, according to a Foster City staff report. Each year, Recology presents data outlining how much work they provided to each city and the SBWMA establishes the amount each city contributes, said Laura Galli, associate civil engineer in Foster City’s Public Works Department.
Based on the different percentages and circumstances each city faces, councils vote each year whether to increase rates to meet state mandates while keeping residents satisfied.
The 29 percent increase was stark and would have been difficult for those navigating a recession; so the council opted to spread out the rate increase, said Leticia Alvarez, Belmont’s assistant director of Public Works.
“A lot of people just couldn’t adjust for that all of a sudden. So by having us spread it out over three years, it gives people the opportunity to adjust to the rate,” Alvarez said.
Last month, the Belmont City Council voted to raise its collection rate by 12.15 percent, Alvarez said. Rates in 2012 had been raised by 11.6 percent and 2013 rates were raised by 14.22 percent. The cost for a Belmont resident to use a 32-gallon can will be $35.79 per month, a $3.88 increase, according to a staff report.
One of Belmont’s major contributing factor is the migration recovery surcharge. Recology predicted many residents would opt for 20-gallon cans instead of their former 32-gallon cans, Alvarez said. But Recology still conducts the same amount of work picking up a smaller can and has the same gas expenses, Alvarez said. Plus, more residents than expected migrated and Belmont is making up for it, Alvarez said.
The hope for Belmont is after its migration surcharge is covered, the increase in rates will begin to taper off, Alvarez said.
Foster City was fortunate to not have been heavily impacted by the migration recovery surcharge. It also chose to foot the 29 percent raise all in one year, Galli said. Because of this, there was no increase in rates from 2012 to 2013 and next year the low 2.9 percent increase means residents will be paying $19.47 for a 32-gallon can.
Cities receive a franchise fee from Recology because it gives Recology the exclusive right to work in the city, Galli said. The Foster City Council has the authority to adjust how much of this fee it receives and chose to reduce it from 10 percent to 5 percent next year. Without the city’s pay cut, trash rates would have been raised by more than 2.9 percent, Galli said.
Foster City has the lowest garbage rates of the SBWMA members, Galli said. Part of that is because of the city’s geography.
“Foster city is a very tight community. We’re four square miles, have very wide roads and it’s flat. So it’s very efficient for garbage trucks to go in an out and collect our materials. Their labor costs for us work out lower,” Galli said.
Unlike other cities where the streets are narrow, there’s more traffic and the drives between homes can be long, there is generally less work for Recology employees in the field, Galli said.
Even after cities fully adjusted to the transition from Allied Waste to Recology, rates will probably continue to increase. But encouraging residents to throw away less by recycling and composting more is good for the environment and prepares cities for upcoming obligations, Alvarez.
“I think it’s environmentally beneficial. We have a state mandate to reduce our waste so we’re trying to recycle and reuse as much as possible,” Alvarez said. “We’re trying to get away from putting solid waste in landfill, so of course having these types of extra services help with that.”
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