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Manteca scores big points with garbage

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POSTED June 16, 2014 11:53 p.m.

Want to see how cost effective local government can be?

Go take a look at your Toter.

Manteca has gone 10 years and counting without a rate hike for garbage service.

Rates are anywhere from $2 to almost $6 less a month for comparable service than from other Northern San Joaquin Valley cities. And when compared to Bay Area communities such as Pleasanton the monthly rates for residential customers in Manteca is almost $11 less a month.

It is not by accident that Manteca has the lowest rates with a 32-gallon Toter coming in at $19.78 a month.

First, Manteca is a full-service city. It has its own police and fire departments. It does not contract out sewer, water or garbage service. Nor does it contract out animal services. 

Years ago the trend was to shy away from full-service cities and contract out basic municipal services such as garbage in the belief the private sector could do it cheaper, more efficient, and more effective. There are some municipalities that even sold off their water systems and/or contracted out operations of their wastewater treatment plants to private contractors in a bid to reduce costs.

Manteca went through a thorough evaluation in the late 1990s. Its numbers were either less or in the ball park with private concerns. Municipal workers, in short, were efficient. 

And thanks in a large part to the push to aggressively look at privatization as a possible option for Manteca by former Mayor Carlon Perry, the tone was set for municipal workers to double down on their efforts to find more cost savings while maintaining service levels.

At the same time, elected leaders – still smarting from the near bankruptcy of 1985 when Manteca cash reserves dropped to $1,000 – continued to insist adequate reserves were maintained. They also didn’t want to get overwhelmed by growth again which is what triggered the mid-1980s municipal financial crisis.

That meant several things: Proactive planning for the future. Resisting popular pressure to cut rates as close to the bone as possible and instead putting in place rates that would allow enterprise funds such as water, sewer, and garbage to build muscle. (The goal was lower rates over the long haul.) Examining and taking advantage of innovations that save money. And perhaps most important of all enlisting the help of residents.

Manteca’s solid waste division is a textbook example of local government getting it right.

• Solid waste workers over the years kept becoming more efficient by serving more and more homes on a single route. Part of it had to do with automation and part of it had to do with the incredible work ethic and can-do attitude of the men collecting solid waste.

• The deployment of cutting edge vehicle technology driven not primarily by a desire to be green but to save green. It is how Manteca came to be the first municipality in California and then in the western United States to deploy two different types of hybrid garbage truck technology that not only reduced air quality issues but cut operating costs.

• Setting aside money every year for the replacing of garbage trucks that can run right around $300,000 each.

• Finding ways to reduce administrative overhead by rethinking operations as they did during the Great Recession.

• Enlisting the public through nonstop education efforts to become part of the solution. The end goal was putting less trash in the brown Toters that had to be landfilled. That meant getting people to recycle. Manteca was one of the first cities to understand that meant educating upcoming generations. That was what Manteca had in mind when they started recycling education in the classroom with kids 22 years ago. Nothing is more powerful than a child hooked on recycling and carrying that message to others in their household. Eventually it pays big dividends.

The city didn’t stop there. They put in place one free bin per household pickup a year to make sure people kept their property clear of larger debris such as used appliances and such. They also offer free documenting shredding service once or twice a year. While it definitely helps with the recycling diversion of paper products it has the added bonus of reducing residents’ exposure to identity theft from people rummaging through their residential Toters.

Manteca isn’t resting on its laurels.

The city is looking at establishing their own composting facility for green waste to further reduce costs and provide city parks with mulch. Manteca is also exploring the possibility of converting some of its garbage that is now landfilled into energy.

Getting rid of our trash isn’t cheap. In Manteca it costs $8 million plus a year.

Eventually there will be another rate increase but for now Manteca still has breathing room even though the city is preparing in the coming months to spend more than $1.3 million for four new replacement garbage truck.

Think what you want about the efficiency of City of Manteca workers but the numbers don’t lie.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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