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Trash deal gets OK

After a last-minute environmental protest filed by two local groups stalled the City Council's vote on a proposed 15-year franchise agreement with its garbage hauler, city staff spent two weeks reworking the contract until it came up with a new version that was approved by the council on a 5-2 vote at Monday's meeting.

David Keller, former city council member and current member of the Petaluma River Council — the group that jointly filed the protest with the No Wetlands Landfill Expansion group — said that the city addressed the significant issues the protest raised. "We appreciate their response," said Keller.

The newly approved contract means that Petaluma Refuse & Recycling, an affiliate of the Ratto Group, will continue to haul Petaluma's trash and recycling for the next 15 years. In exchange for the longer contract, it will pay the city an additional $750,000 per year in fees. $500,000 annually will go directly into the city's general fund at no added cost to the ratepayers, according to city staff.

In addition, Petaluma ratepayers will see just over a 6 percent rate increase beginning in July to help fund the additional $250,000 payments to the city, something that hasn't happened since 2009. City Manager John Brown said that the rate increase to the average household will likely range between .50 cents to $1 per month and pointed out that the new contract will offer the city much-needed funds for road repair.

"One of the things that's been extremely frustrating to me since I came to Petaluma is our inability to fix streets," Brown said. "This contract gives us that opportunity."

Mayor David Glass agreed. "We can't say we want to fix streets and never collect any money," he said.

While the contract does aim to lessen Petaluma's street woes, it is a far cry from the contract extension the city turned down two years ago from Petaluma Refuse, which offered a 10 percent rate reduction and free school service, neither of which the city is getting this time around. Due to language in the city's charter, it had previously been unable to renegotiate certain contracts until they were in their final year and was thus forced to turn down Petaluma Refuse's last offer.

The contract was approved in a 5-2 vote on Monday, with Councilmembers Mike Healy and Teresa Barrett dissenting. Barrett strongly opposed the contract, pointing out that it offers no new service to the community. She argued that signing an exclusive 15-year agreement with a company that doesn't offer battery recycling; that is increasing rates for customers; and that doesn't live up to former promises made by the haulers — such as meeting its target recycling rate — without sending it out to bid, is wrong.

"This is really not the way for cities to run and I cannot support this," said Barrett.

Healy took issue with the $250,000 vehicle impact fee increase that will be passed along to ratepayers, pointing out that because the contract is not actually expiring, it seems unfair to ask ratepayers to accept a rate increase.

Councilmember Mike Harris also voiced similar concerns to Healy, but ultimately voted in favor of the agreement.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)


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