Almanac

News - January 12, 2011

Atherton residents face sharp garbage rate hikes

by Renee Batti

Although the official word has been that customers of the new garbage-collection service in Peninsula cities will be paying 15 to 30 percent higher rates — with the maximum increase figured at 38 percent — Atherton residents are facing rate hikes that could range from 63 percent for using the smallest garbage cans available, to 98 percent for a 96-gallon can.

The proposed rate increases are due to a new service agreement with Recology San Mateo County, which on Jan. 1 took over the weekly collection of garbage and recycling material from Allied Waste for 10 Peninsula towns and unincorporated areas in the county.

Atherton residents' rate hike is also a result of new disposal fees imposed by the county, and Atherton's $334,000 outstanding debt to Allied Waste, according to Lisa Costa Sanders, the town's deputy planner.

A divided City Council on Dec. 15 gave preliminary approval to a rate hike, but rather than endorsing a staff recommendation that would have raised rates on the smallest garbage cans an average of 42.5 percent — and progressively more on larger cans — the council majority agreed that, in order to pay the debt to Allied Waste in full, the rates should be increased further.

Staff had recommended that the new rates cover a three-month payment to Allied Waste this year. The newly calculated proposed rates reflect a full payment to Allied Waste, Ms. Costa Sanders told The Almanac.

The vote to put the adjusted rates before the public for a hearing was 3-2, with council members Jerry Carlson and Bill Widmer opposed.

The public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Under the proposal, service for hauling away a 20-gallon garbage can would rise to $28.22 per month from the current $17.31, and a 32-gallon can, to $45.15 from the current $27.69 — both a 63 percent increase.

Under the proposed progressive schedule, it would cost customers $99.33 for a 64-gallon can, up 79 percent from the current $55.38; and $162.53 for a 96-gallon can, up 98 percent from the current $82.18.

Progressive rates

The progressive rates are intended to motivate people to recycle more, and with the new service, doing so would be much easier. Recology's expanded recycling service allows customers to put food scraps, soiled paper and many other materials that formerly were hauled away as garbage into their "green waste" containers for composting. As a result, some customers can downsize their garbage containers.

The higher rates also reflect the frequency of service for recycling and green-waste collection. Each is now collected every week rather than every other week.

While several council members expressed concerns over the proposed rate increases and the terms of the new provider's service — including a more difficult process to ensure that frail and elderly residents can have their cans picked up in their back yards — Councilman Widmer presented an unexpected challenge to Recology representatives who attended the meeting.

He had conducted experiments with the new containers, he said, and found that their capacity is 15 to 20 percent less than the stated volume, because of their design. "Due to the shape of the receptacles ... you can't fit as much in," he said, asking Recology officials to look into the matter.

Atherton residents were mailed a notice of the public hearing late last month. The notice details the cost schedule for all Recology services.

Go to tinyurl.com/4m6q57q and search for "Item 30" for the Dec. 15 staff report on the rate changes.

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