News - March 23, 2011

Atherton council agrees to plan to lower hike in trash-collection rates

by Renee Batti

Garbage rates will go up in Atherton, but not as high as the town first proposed, the City Council decided March 16 during its regular meeting.

Residents will still pay the highest rates compared with those charged to residents of other towns in the joint powers authority, which represents 10 Peninsula cities, including Atherton and Menlo Park, and the county.

But rather than rate hikes ranging from 63 percent to 98 percent, depending on the size of a customer's trash can, as first proposed by the town, the new proposed fee schedule will raise garbage collection rates 39 percent for all service levels.

While lowering proposed rates in general, the council raised one proposed fee: Under the new proposal, customers would be charged $5 per green-waste receptacle beyond the standard allocation of two. The original proposal included a $1 charge for each container after the first two.

Under the new proposal, service for a 20-gallon garbage can would cost $24.04 per month, rather than $28.22, as earlier proposed. Service on a 32-gallon can would cost $38.46, rather than the earlier-proposed $45.15. The most costly level of service, a 96-gallon can, would cost $114.15 per month, rather than $162.53.

The vote to lower the rate increases was 3-2. Although all council members voiced frustration and skepticism over the need to raise rates as high as first proposed, Mayor Jim Dobbie and Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen supported charging the higher rates to move the process forward, noting the town and its residents will be saddled with a growing debt owed to the garbage collection firm, Recology, the longer the rate increase is delayed.

Interim City Manager John Danielson said the town will have to go through another lengthy public noticing process, and hold another hearing, meaning it is unlikely the new rates will go into effect before July. Changing the originally proposed rates could delay the rate hike even more.

It was agreed that more questions needed answering about Recology's costs to provide service to the town and other factors driving rates up, and if the higher rates couldn't be supported when further analysis was completed, they could be lowered later, some council members noted.

The higher proposed rates were the subject of a public hearing in February, which drew a crowd of angry residents. At that meeting, the council accepted Mr. Danielson's proposal to bring together several outside analysts to answer the list of questions raised over the proposed rates.

The results included a history of rate hikes since 2002 — too small to keep up with rising costs to the garbage collection service — and comparisons to service in other communities in the JPA. Most other towns served have commercial customers, who are charged far higher rates and offset the cost to residential customers.


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