Trash rate increases need a full vetting

When Sacramento limited “the Claw” service, it promised no garbage rate hikes until July 2015.
When Sacramento limited “the Claw” service, it promised no garbage rate hikes until July 2015. Sacramento Bee file

When Sacramento voters allowed a sweeping change in the city’s yard-waste collection, officials promised that their garbage rates wouldn’t go up until at least July 2015.

They’re keeping that pledge, just barely. The city is now proposing three years of rate hikes starting next July for garbage, recycling and yard-waste collection. For a homeowner with a 64-gallon garbage can, the combined rates would go from $34.48 a month now to $36.96 on July 1, 2017.

While the increases would be the first since 2010, the citizens Utilities Rate Advisory Commission should ask some tough questions when the proposal is presented Wednesday.

Every dollar counts, especially for those on fixed incomes, so reducing the increases even a little will help – especially when utility bills are already rising. The last of three years of double-digit increases in water and sewer rates hit on July 1, adding a total of $19 a month to the average bill. On top of that, wastewater treatment bills are scheduled to increase at least the next two years – from $29 a month for a single-family home to $35 on July 1, 2016.

The three years of proposed solid-waste increases are 2.9 percent, 2 percent and 2 percent for garbage; 6 percent, 4.2 percent and 4.15 percent for recycling; and 2 percent, 1 percent and 1 percent for yard waste. City officials say that those are the amounts needed for each service to break even, as required by Proposition 218, and to keep a 90-day reserve. They also say they have reduced costs with more efficient trucks and collection routes.

The advisory commission should make sure any possible savings have been wrung out. Steve Archibald, a commission member and former chairman, pledges that the commission will do so.

Its recommendation will go to the new City Council, probably in February. It’ll be a good test for the three new council members being sworn in next month because if they mess up garbage collection, they’ll hear it loud and clear from constituents.

Council members certainly did in 2012 when they revamped a costly and confusing trash system. That change, which took effect in July 2013, included limiting “the Claw” yard waste service and requiring the use of containers.

Another significant change was reducing recycling pickup from weekly to once every two weeks. After hearing complaints, some council members talked earlier this year about going back. But a survey of residents found two-thirds were opposed to paying the $1.50 more a month that officials said would be needed to return to weekly collection.

While the city says it has no plans to pursue the idea, Archibald says the commission will discuss recycling as part of its review of the rate hikes.

In the survey, while 60 percent said they were very satisfied with their garbage service, nearly half reported problems such as a missed pickup or broken container. Before the council approves any rate hikes, it has to make sure any service miscues have been cleaned up.