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Petaluma garbage rates to increase 6%

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 lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.





4 Responses to “Petaluma garbage rates to increase 6%”

  1. James Bennett says:

    Extortion, “partnerships” in gaming, trash collection deals.
    Picking winners and losers.

    They just don’t call it vig.

    People would get the wrong idea.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  2. Who pays the $500,000? Promises, promises. says:

    $500,000 in “Free money” for the General Fund?

    While key environmental questions about the new garbage contract have thankfully been addressed, it remains unclear to ratepayers and to Council where the $500,000 per year paid to the General Fund will actually come from.

    The Ratto Group, PR&R and staff claim that ‘it won’t come from ratepayers.’ That’s the same promise Ratto made to Santa Rosa with their $1.8 Million incentive payments. Similar claims were made by the Ratto Group to all the other cities to extend no-bid monopoly garbage contracts.

    Either these collective multimillion dollar incentives come from ratepayers’ wallets, or from Ratto’s profit margin. Ratto isn’t operating a charitable organization, but rather a monopoly utility. If the millions are coming from his profits, then our garbage rates are set too high. If
    the millions do come from our ratepayers’ payments, we’ve been sold an expensive lie that this is “free money”.

    Unfortunately, before signing the contract, the city council majority failed to have an independent, transparent audit of PR&R and Ratto Group’s charges and costs for Petaluma (and likewise in Santa Rosa and other cities) to demonstrably prove that this $500,000/year does not now, and will not, come from ratepayers. Apparently, the new contract won’t do that auditing either.

    This is why monopoly utility contracts are so often abused at the ratepayers’ expense. This is why bidding on monopoly contracts is a very good practice, but sadly not done here.

    The Council failed to do their due diligence. Calling this $500,000 “free money” is a fairy tale, unless proven otherwise through regular, independent audits to assure ratepayers that we haven’t been hit with a tax or slush fund through our garbage rates.

    So – Press Democrat and Argus reporters – where is the verifiable proof, in writing, and independently and transparently auditable, that the $500,000 promised to the city’s General Fund is NOT coming from ratepayers?

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  3. Good choice says:

    I agree with the majority of the council, Glass, Albertson, Kearney, Harris & Renee voting in favor of the extended garbage contract.

    I am willing to have my rate go up $2.80 per month in return for $500,000 a year to the city’s general fund. Let’s just hope the council uses this money properly and as stated — on street and road repair and NOT on salaries and pensions.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6

  4. Dan J Drummond says:

    They should anticipate a run on those smaller 20-gallon cans as customers switch from those big bad 95-gallon cans.

    Recycle = thumbs-up
    More landfills = thumbs-down

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

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