The City Council settled on a lower increase in garbage rates in a split 3-2 vote Tuesday, March 15, after disposing of the staff's recommended 15 percent hike.
Council members Peter Ohtaki and Kirsten Keith dissented after indicating they needed more information before feeling comfortable with any permanent increase.
"I want to see the final audit before I approve anything," Ms. Keith said, and asked the city to coordinate a meeting with the 13 other cities belonging to the South Bay Waste Management Authority (SBWMA) to discuss the situation.
In 2009, Menlo Park garbage rates jumped 18 percent. Last year, 28 percent.
This third hike comes as a result of $895,000 the city owes for garbage service by Allied Waste as a result of the service provider signing a labor contract in December 2008 that included pay raises of 17 to 19 percent over five years after the company learned that it lost a bid to renew its service contract for Menlo Park and 11 other jurisdictions.
Those increases are passed through SBWMA to the jurisdictions it serves. And in this case, they're also passed along to the new service provider. When Recology took over from Allied on Jan. 1, it was forced to honor those salary rates for the remaining time left on the 2008 contract.
The city says it doesn't have enough money in the account set aside for garbage service to settle the debt, which must be paid in full by October 2012.
Along with City Manager Glen Rojas, council members Rich Cline and Kelly Fergusson argued that delaying an increase could leave the council trying to pass a 20 percent hike in the fall.
Before making a motion to approve a smaller increase, Ms. Fergusson expressed concern over losing potential revenue if the council didn't raise the garbage rate. "We have to pay for utilities," she said. "That's the society we live in."
The motion also asked that any audited reports for Allied Waste and Recology be posted online, along with a schedule of upcoming SBWMA meetings, and that the council receive information identifying executive-level Recology staff.