County approves mandatory recycling pilot program
Residents in Feather River Disposal’s service area, not including Quincy, Chester and La Porte, could soon have curbside recycling service.
But that service would come with two conditions: It would be mandatory. And it wouldn’t be free.
At its Tuesday, Nov. 15, meeting the Plumas County Board of Supervisors voted to let residents in FRD’s service area make the final decision.
A Proposition 218 notice could be mailed as soon as Dec. 23. If a majority of residents say they want it, the recycling service could begin by the end of March 2012, according to the county’s public works department.
Public Works Director Bob Perreault said the recycling service would be a pilot program. He said the experiment is planned to last a year.
“We can pull the plug if we realize there is more work to be done,” Perreault said. “This is a pilot program, and the intent of setting this up is if we find out the numbers are coming in and they were not as originally assumed, we don’t have to stick with the full one-year program.”
The biggest assumption is that 2,000 additional households would become FRD customers and pay for the mandatory services. Those households currently don’t have service, by choice.
FRD used that 2,000 number to arrive at a proposed $1.60 monthly rate increase for its 3,897 current customers.
The increase would raise the standard monthly bill to $26.31 for weekly 64-gallon trash and monthly 64-gallon recycling service.
The 2,000 additional households within FRD’s franchise area would receive the same bill ($26.31) for the same service as the current customers whether they decided to use the service or not.
The plan assumes seasonal residents would be billed for service from May 1 to Oct. 31, unless individual arrangements are made with FRD.
The supervisors voted 4-1 to move forward with the pilot program. Supervisor Terry Swofford voted “no.”
“This is one of the biggest problems with this country, is we mandate and force people to do things,” Swofford said. “We are taking people’s choices away. Big businesses are leaving this country because of all this crap. And I’m not really happy about it.”
Recycling is becoming a priority for the county, according to Perreault. “It all starts with the state putting mandates (of 75 percent compliance by 2020),” he said.
To get a jump on the state’s requirements, the county wants to take advantage of an offer by FRD.
FRD, a subsidiary of Waste Management, reported $110,641 in “excess” 2010 profit according to its contract with the county.
FRD agreed to apply its extra money toward the start-up costs of a curbside recycling program. The company also offered to use surplus equipment from its Lassen County operation, at no cost to Plumas County.
“We have an opportunity with the FRD over-earnings to divert that funding toward trying this pilot program,” Perreault said. “If it doesn’t work, it’s going to answer a lot of questions for the future. It will have been an effort in good faith that the state will have to recognize.”
According to a study prepared by Public Works engineer John Kolb, the rate would increase by $14.47 per month instead of $1.60 if the service were not mandatory.
Supervisor Jon Kennedy said he felt 2,000 additional customers was an optimistic number. He said it would probably be closer to 1,000.
“So I really foresee another rate increase, and nobody wants that,” Kennedy said.
Supervisor Robert Meacher voted in favor of the pilot program, but he questioned the reasoning for the plan in general.
“So as a result of the franchise having excess profits for last year, this is what we come up with? … Mandatory recycling?” Meacher said. “I don’t know if this is what I was thinking of when we were looking at ways to enhance the service to our customers. Because of excess profits to the franchise we are going to find 2,000 more households and charge them.”
The supervisors had the option to reduce the monthly bill to customers by about 7 percent. That’s because FRD reported a 17 percent profit in 2010, which was more than the 10 percent target in its county contract.
Waste Management General Manager Greg Martinelli said FRD is willing to do whatever the county wants.
“There is absolutely nothing in this for me. I would rather you reduce my rates by $1.40 per month and I can go home and we’re good,” Martinelli told the supervisors. “And the people who want these assets that we have in Lassen County will take them and all is said and done. We won’t have to roll out a new program. We won’t get all the phone calls about ‘why do I have to recycle? I don’t want this can.’
“We are only offering an opportunity today to use things at our disposal at a reasonable rate,” he said. “A garbage truck costs $300,000. We need three of them. That’s a million bucks. The cans cost $50 apiece and then you have to deliver them. … You can do the math.”
Martinelli said the county could wait five years to start a curbside recycling program. But he said it would be more expensive.
“Sacramento is probably not going to come and beat on you for five years,” he said. “But in five years it’s probably going to cost you $5 a month instead of what we are proposing.
“Can we solve all of these problems? Absolutely not. There are a lot of assumptions. If you want to take a shot at it, we are willing to go along with you. If you don’t want to take a shot at it, that’s fine too.”
Board Chairwoman Lori Simpson said the county is doing the right thing by letting voters decide.
“I think people have a right to decide whether they want this or not. Maybe they don’t want it,” Simpson said. “It would be a pilot project. They could see an end if it doesn’t work out. A lot of people around here are still in the 18th century and they don’t think about the future.”
FRD customers in Chester and Quincy wouldn’t be included in the pilot program because those districts already have a recycling contract with the company.
La Porte would be excluded because Yuba-Sutter Regional Waste Management Authority handles its recycling.