Manteca’s elected leaders are voting Dec. 6 to take the amount of money Manteca residents pay for garbage service up by as much as $122.55 a year depending upon the size of the brown Toter that a household uses.
There are legitimate costs the city needs to cover and new programs needed to meet state mandates. Hardly anyone questions that. It’s also been 12 years since the last rate increase.
One of the big surprises in the rate study this time around was the realization by Public Works Deputy Director/Utility Services John Clymo who oversees the solid waste operations that his predecessor failed to take into account that starting a new residential service for a home that has been built has a fairly hefty price tag. There are three Toters the city must purchases plus labor and delivery costs to deliver three Toters. The cost is $420 per home.
Given the number of new homes built in the past 12 years that means the city “gifted” $2 million plus to growth. Actually the city didn’t gift it as much as force existing residents that are the ratepayers on the hook for covering the cost of the solid waste service to subsidize growth — so much for the long-standing claim that growth pays its way and existing residents don’t subsidize it.
This is why the council has a fiducial — if not moral — obligation to make sure no stone has been left unturned to make sure no revenue is being left on the table.
Two years ago the solid waste division — in response to homeowners irate that the homeless were dumping contents of blue Toters on the ground, rifling through them for the redeemable nickel containers, and then leaving behind the mess they made — tested lockable Toters.
The test was a success. City staff at the time figured they could replace the non-lockable Toters with lockable Toters a little at a time offsetting the cost with revenue from the recyclables that they wouldn’t be losing. The idea was then killed.
That’s because the city viewed the pilfering of recyclables and leaving a mess as a quality of service problem. They failed to see it for what it is — the theft of money from ratepayers since the loss of revenue from the stolen recyclables means the city is forcing ratepayers to subsidize the lifestyle of scavengers that are essentially homeless. The city might as well be honest and delete the section of the municipal ordinance that makes it illegal to take recyclables from blue Toters.
As for the “poor” homeless trying to support themselves that is not a de facto legal use of the solid waste enterprise fund. Providing support for the homeless is nowhere in the rate study that the council is being asked to adopt Dec. 6.
So how much money are we talking about?
First, you really should drive through Manteca in the wee hours of the morning on recycling week before the solid waste trucks start rolling. There are dozens of people walking around with bags full of recyclables over their shoulders as if they are Santa Claus. Others can be seen pedaling bicycles pulling wagons loaded with bags of cans and bottles worth a nickel apiece.
If you think there is that much littering to support such a massive free range scavenging along roadsides in and around Manteca I can sell you a condo on Alcatraz Island for $25 or — in homeless currency —500 redeemable containers.
If a Manteca household tossed out 20 reedemable containers a week — the equivalent of three six-packs of soda and two juice bottles — it represents $1 in redeemable value. Multiple that by Manteca’s households and that’s $24,000 a week. Over a year that is $1,248,000.
Let’s assume — since the city didn’t bother to have the consultant address an obvious loss of solid waste revenue — that the homeless and other scavengers only steal $400,000 worth of recyclables a year from ratepayers.
Assume the new Toters are $100 apiece. That means Manteca would have to spend $2.4 million if it changed out all the Toters at once. But if you did it over a 10 year period plus had all new Toters bought by the city for new service going forward lockable, it could be manageable.
As growth occurs the loss goes up. But if you start switching to lockable Toters the losses will start to go down. Eventually — just like with solar power — lockable Toters will be paid for and you will realize more income. What does $400,000 plus annually going forward mean to future garbage rates? It is around $16 a year per household.
Maybe it won’t turn out that way but how do we know? It was given — based on the consultant’s study — absolutely no consideration. At the same time is the city getting the most money it can from its current recycling arrangenments?
Perhaps in the name of transparency the City Council could at least provide information on your monthly utility bill that part of the basic monthly garbage fee you pay is essentially a homeless tax of $1.44 a month.