I have a neighbor a few blocks over that has a few choice words about the Manteca City Council that I cannot repeat.
The words are way out of character for her — a church going 60-something lady raising her young grandson on her own.
Her frustrations, quite frankly, are garbage.
She is currently paying $237.36 a year for a 35-gallon Toter that she rarely fills more than half way up with trash. In a little over three years from now she will be paying $362.04 annually for the city service.
She says if she’s lucky the $4 per month Social Security increase she’s getting next year will be as robust in the following four years so she can have an extra $9.15 each month by 2021 when the city’s rate hike is fully implemented.
The system, she tells, me is “rigged.”
At first glance, that doesn’t seem to be a fair assessment. The city after all is following Proposition 218 rules regarding rate increases and is striving to operate the solid waste division as an enterprise account.
In such cases the best practice for government agencies is to consider alternatives that include general fund subsidies, increasing assessments as the city is proposing, reducing the current level of service, outsourcing services, possible enhancements as the city is pursuing with converting food waste into compressed natural gas, and possible over revenue mechanisms.
Keep the last “best practice” in mind. It usually refers to levying special taxes or forming a community facilities district.
The city has identified a new revenue source they are developing on the back of monthly charges assessed against 21,000 residential customers and 800 commercial customers. That revenue is essentially “green” credits that oil companies and others pay that fail to generate a set amount of clean energy to offset fossil fuel production. The report the council is relying on references such revenue but then offers no estimate of how much that could be. How this is either business-like or fiducially responsible is what the City Council should be hammered on and hammered hard. They are spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million to convert food waste to compressed natural gas yet they aren’t asking staff how much money this could generate.
Instead they settle for innocuous sounding text referencing how solid waste trucks damage city streets and how that a city in South Dakota of all places has studied tacking a street maintenance charge on garbage bills.
As the council is lulled into complacency staff notes that they are not recommending a charge at this time but they very conveniently slip it into the budget expense projections required in the documentation needed for a Proposition 218 rate hike as a zero amount for each for the next five years. They then innocently say that any excess revenue beyond what is projected in the report — obviously the green fees that oil companies are forced to pay to secure bio-gas credits — will go to the street fund to cover that street wear and tear charge that they “aren’t adopting.” If they really aren’t adopting it, why enter it as a “zero” budget item for the next five years?
As for the system being “rigged,” in a way it is. Proposition 218 requires a majority protest at the Dec. 6 City Council meeting to reject the fee hike as it’s structured. That means 10,801 ratepayers would have to lodge a protest.
In defense of the city, the methodology they are using to spread the costs across ratepayers meets the Proposition 218 criteria. The current rates, as they point out, don’t. That’s because they made the rates “artificially low” for the smallest Toter service to encourage more recycling. The city basically admitted they follow Proposition 218 rules only when it suits their goals and needs.
Then there’s the issue of charging off services to solid waste such as street sweeping that they started doing during the recession when the general fund was collapsing. If the city were spending $300,000 each year on street sweeping maybe the City Council wouldn’t been able to agree so easily to spend $52,500 in general fund money to hire a consultant to brand the city and do a redesign of a 9-month-old city website.
And let’s not forget the little matter of grants for the CNG project that are not being factored into solid waste revenue at any time in the future which means when that money is spent it will likely push part of the monthly charges ratepayers are assessed into the street fund.
It’s time to be honest. What the City Council is being asked to adopt on Dec. 6 is a Solid Waste and Street Repair Fee.
There’s no doubt a rate increase is needed. I’d even argue the hit on the 35-gallon Toter users of which I am one is justified. What isn’t justified is the City Council not nailing down the use of revenue generated from bio-gas credits or the backfilling of expenses with grants to lower rates when the money is realized.
This is a big deal. I will pay $2,136.62 in property taxes next year. Of that, $380 will go to the City of Manteca. My garbage bill under the new rate increases will ultimately be $362.04 annually. I will be paying just $18 less a year for garbage service than in city property taxes.
The City Council needs to get this right.
If not the choice words of my neighbor might just be justified.