Recently, Inyo County approved an 8% increase to the floor rate for all commercial and solid waste collection and hauling. Last week, after the third of three presentations on Inyo County Recycling and Waste Management, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors acknowledged that their work to improve the County’s Integrated Waste Management system is only beginning.
The 8% floor rate increase for waste haulers Bishop Waste and Preferred Disposal will bring the previous monthly fee for a single trashcan home up from $18.79 to $20.29. With a $5 gate fee at the three County landfills, and a County mandate for weekly self hauling, residents and commercial businesses who elect not to use a waste hauler will continue to pay a minimum of about $20 a month.
The 8% increase is intended to bring waste hauler profit up to 5-6%, explained Inyo County Deputy Administrator Pam Hennarty. She assessed three years of financial data from both Bishop Waste and Preferred Disposal and found “anywhere from a loss of revenue to up to 3% of revenue,” she said.
Bishop Waste Disposal Manager Pat Fenton expressed skepticism that Bishop Waste would receive a 5% increase in revenue as a result of the 8% floor rate increase. “Where’s the evaluation, and who did it?” he asked.
“It’s not a difficult calculation to run,” Hennarty replied. “I had three years of cost, revenue, and net revenue. Comparing those is not a difficult mathematical computation.”
Preferred Disposal Owner Dale Comontofski, who proposed a 35% increase for residential and 30% increase for commercial floor rates, also wondered whether the 8% increase would be enough. He argued that the County has placed an additional financial burden on waste haulers by increasing the franchise fee, or the amount of waste hauler revenue collected by the County, from 2% to 10% in the last decade.
In the past two years alone, the franchise fee doubled from 5% to the current 10%. Hennarty explained the increase as the result of a rise in participation in non-mandatory curbside and business service. “The County has to regulate the service, and that comes at the cost of oversight and reporting to the state,” Hennarty said.
Last year the County collected $280,000 from waste hauler revenue.
Comontofski argued that waste haulers also have to report to the state. He noted California Air Resources Board mandates that haulers make modification to their diesel trucks, as well as new tire regulations, as additional strains on waste hauler budgets. “I make a salary and that’s it,” he said. “I haven’t had any rate of return. I don’t want to be average as a garbage company, but that’s what you’ll see, if we only get an average increase to keep us alive.”
Hennarty acknowledged that the 8% increase might increase again, if the County considers some of her recommendations for overall improvements to the County’s Integrated Waste Management program. Currently, the County operates recycling and waste management services at a significant deficit, she said. The FY 2012-13 deficit was $250,000; this year that number will be closer to $400,000, because the County is budgeting for the purchase and installation of scales at the Bishop-Sunland landfill.
The scales will improve the efficiency of trash collection and reporting at the landfill, Hennarty said. “We currently have a volume-based system, so when somebody drives into the dump, the gate attendant estimates how many cubic yards of trash they have,” she explained. Because the state measures compliance by weight, not volume, the County must convert that volume estimation into tonnage. Hennarty described this as an “inaccurate system; somebody could be throwing away three or four bags of packing peanuts, or they could be throwing away standard trash,” she said. The new scales will allow the County to more accurately report the waste it generates to the state.
Some of Hennarty’s other suggestions for refining the County’s Integrated Waste Management program included changing the waste hauler permit districts for better tracking of waste origin, which would help the County identify any waste coming from outside the County; requiring recycling with any service, which would increase landfill lifespans; and decreasing the amount of trash per current gate fee, which would bolster County revenues.
Supervisor Rick Pucci expressed concern about the Board’s approach to fixing the County’s Integrated Waste Management program. “My fear is, it looks like we’re going to piecemeal it, raising the [waste hauler] rates now,” he said. Then again, he added, “We have to keep the haulers doing what they’re doing, or else we’re in a nightmare.”
Hennarty agreed that the floor rate increase “is just one piece of a complex puzzle.” The County must also consider long-term, “holistic” changes to the way it manages waste, she said. Supervisor Mark Tillemans cautioned the Board to be “really careful about how we proceed, so we don’t end up with our desert filled with trash.” He and other Board members noted the importance of communicating with the public before instating any major changes to the Integrated Waste Management program.
“I don’t think we should hurry through this,” Supervisor Linda Arcularius concluded; “this is big stuff.”