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More trash talk for Board of Supervisors

August 20, 2013

County leaders may reconsider how it regulates two commercial waste haulers who pick up residential and commercial garbage (above) once a week in an effort to close the Integrated Waste Management budget shortfall. Changes may include a new fee schedule for local landfills, or mandatory curbside trash pickup for residents. Photo by Marilyn Blake-Phillip

Members of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday received the third in a trilogy of workshops regarding Inyo County’s landfills and its overall solid waste program.
During the presentation, Deputy County Administrator and Integrated Waste Manager Pam Hennarty said that changes must be made to the county’s solid waste program to make it self-sufficient. Those changes may come in the form of increased rates, or changes to the way commercial waste haulers are regulated, or a combination of both.
Two weeks ago, Hennarty kicked off her trilogy of workshops by discussing the county’s landfills and disposal programs and recycling.
This week, the discussion was focused on garbage collection and the county’s rules and regulations for the two commercial waste haulers serving local residents.
“The county is required to provide disposal facilities (landfills) and recycling, but not collection,” Hennarty said. “That is an optional service that the county regulates. Currently, the county code requires waste to be removed from residences weekly, but curbside pickup is not required.”
Hennarty said that the county requires commercial waste haulers to obtain a county permit. As part of the permit process, the county’s two waste collectors are required to pay the county 10 percent of their collection fees as a franchise fee.
“We need more checks and balances for the fees the county can collect,” Hennarty said, explaining that over the past several years, the two waste haulers have reported more customers and increased rates, but have been paying a decreasing franchise fee to the county.
“Revenue is dropping even though prices are going up and the haulers are saying they have more customers,” Hennarty said. “We can’t back-check it, and it seems contradictory to me.”
Hennarty also said the county has defined two permit areas for the franchise fees: Area A, from the northern county line to Independence; and Area B, from Independence south.
She suggested that the Board of Supervisors consider dividing those areas in to smaller permit zones, which would allow the Integrated Waste Management Department to better track how much waste each permit area generates.
As for the county’s regulation of waste haulers and its mandates for trash pickup, Hennarty said there are a few options, including the current status quo, which does not mandate curbside pickup, but gives residents the option of choosing one of the two commercial waste haulers (who’s rates are regulated by the county, through set floor and ceiling costs).
Hennarty also said the county could consider assigning districts to the two waste haulers, which would eliminate the customers’ choice in which provider serves their community, but would provide the county with better information about where garbage in the landfill is originating.
Hennarty said that system would eliminate competition, but, with the county setting floor and ceiling rates for the waste haulers, “we’re not in a competitive arena anyway.”
The county could also opt to mandate that residents pay for curbside trash pickup. That would ensure that garbage is removed from homes on a weekly basis and, due to “economy of scale, every one pays less because everyone is paying,” Hennarty said. She added that mandatory curbside pickup would likely be an unpopular decision, but it could help raise revenue for the Integrated Solid Waste Department.
Another option Hennarty proposed to the board was a manipulation of gate fees at the landfills.
Currently, residents dumping their own garbage at local landfills pay about $5 for three cubic yards of waste. Rather than raising the gate-fee, Hennarty suggested lowering the amount of waste residents can dispose of for $5. She suggested that rather than three cubic yards, residents should be able to dispose of one cubic yard of waste for $5, which would help generate more money for the program, and encourage residents to recycle.
“The county has to provide disposal. We have a disposal based system now, and the cost does not pay for itself and fights against recycling,” Hennarty said.
The Board of Supervisors will meet at a later date to consider the options presented by Hennarty and decide if and how changes will be implemented in the Integrated Solid Waste Department.

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