Danville Express

Newsfront - March 9, 2007

Talking trash with the Waste Authority

Danville refuses to raise rates for garbage collection

by Natalie O'Neill

Some Central Contra Costa cities have to cough up a few more dollars a month for residential trash services - but Danville doesn't.

Trash collection rates were hiked in surrounding areas last week but Danville officials refused to raise service prices, as the increase was a result of financial shortfalls in other areas.

Danville is part of Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority, an agency that offers waste management to Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette, Walnut Creek and unincorporated areas of the county. The agency has raised trash collection rates collectively for all areas when needed in the past 10 years, but won't this time.

"You have to ask what the Danville resident is going to be getting out of it," said Mayor Mike Shimansky, who serves on the waste authority board.

Danville's waste authority annual revenue is currently about $85,000, while most other cities are hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red.

Residential waste collection fees in Danville will stay the same - about $16 per month for a typical 32-gallon can, while other areas will increase to as much as $22 per month.

"It needed to be raised but it didn't need to be increased across the board," said Sharon Maves, executive director for Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority.

The physicality of the town plays a big part in why Danville has less trouble maintaining a high surplus when it comes to trash collection. Orinda and Lafayette are hilly, cover a larger terrain and have more customers to accommodate, Shimansky said.

The discussion has prompted changes in the way the waste authority will charge each city.

"We're in the process of reviewing how rates are determined and the reserve fund is allocated," Maves said.

This is the first time the issues are being considered since Danville joined the agency in 1996.

"This was the emperor's new clothes - everything was fine until somebody questioned it," Shimansky said, noting that the changes are necessary.

In past years, the reserve fund was thought of as a pool for cities to take from as they needed. But now Danville officials no longer want to subsidize other cities' trash costs and are pushing for six separate reserve funds.

Shimansky said he hopes it will be split into separate reserves, with each area pulling from its own funds, but still allowing other cities to borrow when needed.

"It ought to be pay as you go," he said.

This will benefit Danville and unincorporated areas like Blackhawk, Alamo and Diablo, but will make it harder for struggling cities like Orinda and Lafayette.

With separate rates paid by each area, along with the potential for separate reserves, there is still one binding factor that holds the cities together. Working collectively saves residents money on monthly payments.

"Together we can negotiate a better rate," Shimansky said.

In addition, the combined agencies are able to share expenses, overhead and equipment like trucks.

"Danville's rate is lower than from before the authority formed," Maves said.

Debris box rates, which are used for construction waste, will rise by 3.8 percent in all areas including Danville.

There is a general consensus among the waste authority board that those rates must remain the same for all areas. This is to prevent people in the construction business from hopping cities to find cheaper places to get rid of their trash.

Currently Danville has a surplus of about $376,000 in its reserve this year, while Lafayette has a shortfall of about $663,000, Orinda has a shortfall of $396,000, and Walnut Creek has a shortfall of $832,000.

In looking at whether rates need to be raised, Maves said the agency had to ask itself if it would bring in $33 million annually. It concluded it they wouldn't without an increase.

Rates for Central Contra Costa County trash pickup are still below the average rate of cities in surrounding counties, Maves said.

Danville officials don't have complaints about the agency, Shimansky said. It's just the formula for rates and revenue that Danville board members oppose.

Contact Natalie O'Neill at noneill@danvilleweekly.com

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