News - November 24, 2010

Menlo Park garbage price hike looms again

by Sandy Brundage

Last year, Menlo Park garbage rates jumped 18 percent. This year, 28 percent. Next year? Maybe another 15 percent.

The City Council, after much debate and opposition from exiting council member John Boyle at its Nov. 16 meeting, decided to state "as much as 15 percent" on public notices mailed to residents informing them about the upcoming rate increase.

The call for a third increase in as many years reflects the state of negotiations with garbage collection and recycling service providers. Allied Waste, during talks with the Teamsters union that supplies its labor force, agreed to pay raises of 17 to 19 percent over the span of a five-year agreement, signed in December 2008 after the company learned that it lost a bid to renew its contract to serve Menlo Park and 11 other jurisdictions.

Those increases are passed through the regional agency that oversees garbage collection and processing, the South Bayside Waste Management Authority (SBWMA), to the jurisdictions it serves. And in this case, they're also passed along to the new service provider. When Recology takes over from Allied on Jan. 1, it will be forced to honor those salary rates for the remaining time left on the 2008 contract.

"In theory, they could just decide to double everybody's salaries and they could just pass it along? There's no oversight?" Mr. Boyle asked city staff, who responded that while there's a process "to monitor" salaries, if the SBWMA did refuse to honor pay increases, the negotiations could end up in court.

Mr. Boyle argued for capping the potential hike at 10 percent, pointing out that the lower increase would still allow the city to pay off $895,000 owed to Allied Waste by the 2012 deadline. "Ten percent keeps pressure on for contractors to stop these ridiculous levels of cost increases. Ten percent is high," he said. "The city has time, when it sets 2012 rates, to force some changes if the system continues to be broken."

"There's one person in my house who will react to any increase," said Mayor Rich Cline. "Any." The difference between writing 10 percent versus 15 percent on the public notice therefore seemed unimportant, he suggested, given that any increase will leave residents disgruntled.

Tongue in cheek, outgoing council member Heyward Robinson suggested a 50 percent increase before expressing frustration over what he described as "exorbitant collective bargaining agreements."

Council member Kelly Fergusson stated she'd appreciate the flexibility offered by a greater range of rate increases. In the end, everyone except Mr. Boyle voted to announce the cap as 15 percent.


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