Street sweeping was a general fund expense until 2008 when municipal jobs were on the line due to the Great Recession.
To assure city employees wouldn’t lose their jobs, the city hierarchy secured a legal opinion that the task entrusted to the street division for years could be switched to the solid waste division.
This matters because it impacted your garbage bill.
And more precisely the dollars involved $243,735 would take a big bite out of the $378,400 the city is now paying on an annual basis to bury 7,200 tons of recyclables that are now contaminated due to market conditions.
To be clear, no one should bury anything that is still a viable recyclable.
But the fact the city — for want of a better term — seems “clueless” about the impact of the ongoing solid waste narrative they’ve created. They have failed to make a political case for the move to banish to brown carts the now worthless recyclables such as paper, cereal boxes and other cardboard that is not corrugated, glass bottles, magazines, and newspapers
The move — assuming the City Council suspends the $51.75 change-out charge for switching to a larger cart to a accommodate an avalanche of items most Manteca residents faithfully recycled for almost a quarter of a century — will cost those that need to switch due to the new rules at least $20 more a year.
The city never factored in the $52 per ton cost of burying 600 tons of recyclables a month that now contain items deemed garbage due to their lack of market value. That means Manteca’s solid waste budget is bleeding $378,400.
In terms of pure money, the city has another option that would almost cover the entire $378,400 in unexpected expenses.
It involves doing two things. The first is switching street sweeping back to the street division where it was for decades. That saves $243,735 that — when applied to the unanticipated landfill charges — reduces the annual budget bleed to $124,665. The second is following the recommendation of a consultant to eliminate one administrative position in solid waste that can be done relatively painlessly given the solid waste manager is retiring in March. That could easily save another $80,000 reducing the bleed to $44,665 a year.
Another possibility that might work is juggling work schedules and examining Saturday commercial service so that overtime can be reduced or eliminated that could wipeout the remaining bleeding. This option is not on as solid ground as a cost saving as it would need a close analysis of day-to-day work schedules to see if the city could shave time from Monday through Friday via end of route duties to cover Saturday hours.
Private sector workers called in to work have to be paid for two hours even if they work less time. It’s highly doubtful the Saturday workers have enough work to fill out a full four hour shift. That said in order to implement such an option you’d have to have a tight scrutiny on daily work patterns as well as requiring a rotating schedule of sorts so the same workers aren’t stuck working 40 hours over six days. In the end such and option may not squeeze out enough savings to be worth the endeavor.
That said, the first two options would reduce the bleeding to $44,665 a year.
This is significant as it would buy time to really look at less intrusive changes to Manteca’s recycling habits. As Councilman Gary Singh pointed out, it could avoid the need to unravel 25 plus years of education and habit building and avoid the need when a solution is worked out to try and switch households back to previous recycling habits at which time they’d likely want to change back to smaller brown carts. If you don’t think within a year or so viable domestic options for what have become bad recyclables aren’t in place you’re forgetting that we live in California. The militant greenies will never tolerate long-term burying of the new ‘bad” recyclables even if they have to hold their nose a bit on other issues such as air quality regarding operations being built to convert those recyclables into useable products. At the very least, some smart entrepreneur from out-of-state could mine the Mother Lode of greenhouse tax credits to underwrite building and operating a paper recycling plant outside of California.
Yes, staff that has already made the case that there is no other option than the one they are now embarking on for recyclables would likely argue it is too late in the process to consider the street sweeper/staff reduction option.
But there is a slight problem. They said they looked at all options. The clearly is not the case.
They didn’t look at switching street sweeping back to the general fund because it would likely impact the city’s ability to maintain streets given staffing in the street division was decimated when it was slashed in half in the 2008 budget cuts. That said it should have been presented to the council as an option.
The same goes for the small fortune spent on an outside consultant to respond to pointed questions asked about solid waste operations by just one individual. City staff cherry picked recommendations to basically affirm moves they wanted to do. They left the big money — elimination of an administrative position that the consultant, in his opinion, stated an operation the size of Manteca did not need — on the table.
While the problem that triggered the need to change how Manteca recycles is out of the city’s control, how it addresses it is not.
Then there is the political and moral question for the council that is entrusted not simply with overseeing municipal policy and hiring the city manager but also fiscal responsibility that they must answer: Is the current solution without taking the street sweeping and staffing issue into consideration being fair and responsible not to taxpayers but to ratepayers. They are two different animals. Slipping the street sweeping back into the general fund — which has countless demands in revenue due to needs and wants — would have a small ripple effect. Compare that to the solid waste enterprise fund where leaving the street sweeping in place will create more of a tsunami given the city estimates the recycling change going forward will likely an adverse financial impact on at least half of Manteca’s households.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.