There’s really no end to the ways our various governments can extract more money from us, either directly or indirectly. I looked at my last two property tax bills and found the tax had gone up 6.5 percent from one year to the next, with a Prop 13 annual adjustment and two new school bond payments. The number of “voter approved taxes, taxing agency direct charges and special assessments” increased from 8 to 10, and we can look forward to number 11 when the whopping big Santa Rosa J.C. bond ($400+ million) hits the next round of tax bills.

With Governor Brown’s big push, we can look forward to steeply higher gas taxes and vehicle registration fees later this year. As a penalty for complying with mandatory water rationing, we can look forward to an increase in the cost of water supplied by the Sonoma County Water Agency. And we must not forget the 20+ bond and sales tax measures that were approved throughout Sonoma County last November.

But wait, there’s more. When the city of Santa Rosa hands out a new contract for trash hauling effective in 2018, there will be “significant increases” in the costs to city residents, according to consultants hired by the city, as referenced “Two Vie for Garbage Hauler Contract,” which was published in The Press Democrat, April 13. How significant? I wouldn’t be surprised if costs double or even triple, from less than $200 per year to more than $500. Is this a big deal for the 55,000 trash hauling accounts in Santa Rosa? You bet. This contract will be worth tens of millions of dollars.

I made a serious attempt to understand the trash-hauling situation in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, without achieving complete success. The phrase that kept popping up about this situation is: “It’s really messed up.”

Let me summarize some key elements.

Company A has the current contract for trash hauling in Santa Rosa. The contract runs out at the end of 2017. Company A has been criticized by city officials for not meeting some terms of the current contract. The alleged shortcomings included failure to replace/repair aging garbage trucks, failure to meet recycling goals, failure to register/license street sweepers, arbitrary reduction in classes of materials accepted for recycling, poor customer service, and lack of a permit for the company’s recycling facility. The city quoted potential fines of $14 million, but ultimately settled for $2 million. Meanwhile, the County of Sonoma is fining Company A ($800,000+ to date) for problems with its recycling facility and has also issued orders to cease operations.

But we must also remember that Company A’s charges to residents are very low. Schools get free trash hauling, which saves the city and thus taxpayers lots of money.

Company B is trying to purchase Company A. With only months left on Company A’s contract with the city of Santa Rosa, a purchase by Company B may only make sense if Company B wins the new contract beginning in 2018. Company B is one of five companies (B, C, D, E and F), which were part of a competition, beginning in January, 2017, to win the new contract for Santa Rosa, beginning in 2018. Company A was not competing for the new contract.

Reportedly, the field of competitors for Santa Rosa’s contract has narrowed to only two, Companies C and D. Note that Company B, which is trying to buy Company A right now, doesn’t appear to have made the final cut in the competition. But Company A has a 25-year contract for hauling trash in the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County. Will that business be enough to convince Company B to continue its efforts to buy Company A? Stay tuned.

There are numerous factors affecting trash-hauling in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, but here’s a brief overview of potential problems. First, there’s the problem of cross-contamination (with garbage) of materials meant for recycling. Second, there’s past litigation against landfill and composting operations at the county’s central landfill. Third, there’s the threat of new environmental litigation against new recycling or composting operations. Fourth, there’s the challenge of calculating the cost of “free” services when a trash-hauling company doesn’t know how many free services it must provide. Fifth, there are implications of the very long contract (up to 55 years) with the new operator of the central landfill. Sixth, there are the implications of our landfill having the highest “tip” rates (per ton of trash) in Northern California. Seventh, there’s the role of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. Finally, there are implications of the Joint Powers, county-wide requirement (“Waste Delivery Agreement”) that all trash from the county, cities (except Petaluma) and town (Windsor) must go to the central landfill.

And this is the short list of potential problems.

What could go wrong? More about trash-hauling next month in Open Trench.

 

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