By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Petaluma residents’ garbage bills will go up by more than 6 percent in July, part of a new franchise agreement the city agreed to last week that will also bring in an extra $750,000 a year to the city’s coffers.
The council voted 5-2, with Teresa Barrett and Mike Healy opposed, to sign a renegotiated, 15-year contract with Petaluma Refuse & Recycling, which currently hauls the city’s trash.
The agreement calls for the company to pay $500,000 a year to the city’s general fund. Those payments plus additional checks early next year would bring in a total of $8 million over the life of the deal, which can be spent at the City Council’s discretion.
It also increases the company’s “vehicle impact” payment to the city by $250,000 a year. That amount will be earmarked toward the city’s street fund to offset some of the wear and tear large trash trucks cause to city streets.
The general fund payment cannot be passed onto ratepayers, but the vehicle impact fee will be, which in part triggered Healy and Barrett’s opposition.
When the proposed contract initially came before the council in October, it included a 4 percent rate hike — which would be the first for Petaluma customers since 2009.
But an updated contract the council considered last Monday allows the impact fee to be passed through to customers, adding another 2.15 percent to the first year’s rate increases.
Rates will increase about 51 cents a month on the smallest, 20-gallon cans, to as much as $2.82 a month on the largest, 95-gallon cans.
In the future, increases will be tied to a garbage industry consumer-price index that has averaged around 3 percent annually, according to a city consultant.
Healy said he supported a long-term contract and additional general fund money for the city, but not if it raised rates.
Barrett disliked that the contract was awarded without competitive bidding, that the impact fee doesn’t fully offset the trucks’ wear and tear on city roads and that the long-term deal provides no service improvements for customers.
A change in a city ordinance last year allowed the franchise agreement to be extended without putting it out for bid to other companies.
In total, the city would net $12.4 million more over the life of the new agreement than under the current contract.
A vote on the contract was delayed last month after environmental groups raised legal concerns. City Manager John Brown said several legal experts consulted agreed that a full environmental review was unnecessary to ink the new contract.
If the city were sued on environmental issues, he said, the garbage company would be liable for costs, which could be recovered through rate hikes.
If the city lost a legal challenge, the previous contract would be reinstituted and the city would be forced to repay any money it had received under the new deal.
Petaluma Refuse & Recycling is part of the Ratto Group, which through various subsidiaries has the garbage hauling contracts for eight of Sonoma County’s nine cities and the unincorporated areas.
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.