City council to consider sanitation rate increase

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

City services bills may be going up this summer if the Claremont City Council approves proposed sanitation rate hikes.

On Tuesday the city council will consider fee increases of 12 percent annually for all residential, multi-family, and commercial customers. Additionally, residents with more than one 96-gallon green waste or recycling container would have an extra monthly charge of $5.50 tacked on to their bill for each additional container. A cost of living increase of approximately three percent may be necessary each year between 2022 and 2026.

A typical home with one trash, one recycling and two green waste containers would pay an extra $5.50 per month for the second green waste can. Multi-family buildings would be allowed three containers per unit before an additional charge was levied. If approved the new rates would begin in July.

The fee increases are the recommendation of a sanitation rate study the city commissioned from Willdan Financial Services earlier this year. The firm prepared a five-year financial model that included projected revenues as well as projected expenses such as vehicle replacement, operation and maintenance. The report also considered anticipated growth and reserve targets.

Wildan determined the city’s current rates are insufficient to maintain the sanitation operations over the next five years. The increased fees are necessary to address “new unfunded state mandates and changes to recycling costs driven by global recycling markets,” according to the city. These external factors are anticipated to increase the cost to provide solid waste and recycling service in 92 percent of California cities.

“The additional revenue generated from the recommended rate increase and charges for containers would be used to offset the cost to implement the city’s new organic waste recycling program. Under state law SB 1383, California cities must implement universal organic waste recycling programs for all customers on or before January 1, 2022,” Public Information Officer Bevin Handel said in a statement.

The new state law is intended to reduce methane emissions from landfills by diverting organic material to composting facilities. The cost of implementing the city’s new state-mandated organic waste recycling program is estimated at $400,000. Organic waste includes landscape waste, food scraps, non-hazardous wood waste, and food soiled paper products.

“The $5.50 fee is intended to offset the cost of added organics and recyclable processing and provide a more equitable pricing structure where rates are more closely tied to the amount of waste that is generated,” Ms. Handel said.

The city launched a food waste pilot program last month, which is part of the process to be in compliance with SB 1383. If Claremont does not limit its food waste that ends up in landfills by January 2022, it could face fines from the state.

The rate increase is also necessary to pay for the increased cost of processing recycled materials.

In 2017, the city entered into a five-year contract for waste processing, which paid the city approximately $17 per ton for recycled materials. In January 2018, China implemented its National Sword Policy, banning imports on 24 categories of scrap materials including low grade plastics and unsorted mixed paper. Until that time, 62 percent of California’s exported recyclable materials were sent to China, according to the city.

In January of 2022, Claremont will begin paying market rates for processing and disposal of mixed recyclables which is estimated to cost $65 per ton. The city generates approximately 5,500 tons of recyclable material annually, resulting in a new anticipated cost of $357,000. When combined with the lost revenue, the total anticipated budgetary impact will be approximately $455,000 annually.

The fiscal challenges associated with SB 1383 compliance and changes to recyclable commodity values are not unique to Claremont. Cities across California have increased rates or will increase rates over the next year to adjust for these factors.

Under state law proposition 218, property owners, and tenants directly liable for the payment of sanitation fees, must be notified of the rate increases and must be provided with the opportunity to submit a written protest.

If on Tuesday the city council authorizes staff to begin the proposition 218 process, notices and protest ballots would be mailed to all customers in early April. These protest ballots can be submitted back to the city until the conclusion of the public hearing on May 25. The city council would then be notified of the number of protest ballots received.

The public may participate in Tuesday’s city council meeting on Zoom and voice their concerns during public comment on the rate increase proposal. Written comments may also be submitted to contact@ci.claremont.ca.us.

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