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Petaluma to get new garbage collector

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Petaluma residents are on the verge of having a new trash collector, after the city council initiated the assignment of its $11.5 million annual garbage franchise agreement to Recology. The San Francisco-based garbage collection company is in the process of buying The Ratto Group, Petaluma’s current hauler, and garbage rates are not expected to significantly increase until at least 2020.

Under the deal that the council unanimously approved Monday, Recology will take over the Petaluma franchise in February and finish the remaining 10-year life of the agreement with The Ratto Group. Under the existing agreement, the garbage hauler pays the city 10 percent of gross receipts, a $500,000 annual payment and a pavement condition fee that is 10.27 percent of gross receipts, among other fees.

Ratepayers won’t see a significant increase for at least two years, although rates may increase by less than 1 percent to offset the cost of complying with a state mandated program to keep trash out of storm drains, according to Dan St. John, the city’s public works director.

“We see a seamless transition,” he said. “It will be interesting to see if anybody really notices until the containers are relabeled, and the dumpsters are relabeled and the trucks are relabeled. Then maybe people will notice, but in terms of service levels, we don’t expect any significant changes.”

The Ratto Group, operating locally as Petaluma Refuse and Recycling, took over from Green Waste in 2010 and won a 15-year contract in 2013. Recology is purchasing the Ratto Group’s assets and plans to offer jobs to most of the current employees, Fred Stemmler, regional general manager for Recology.

Stemmler said that Recology would send notices to ratepayers to tell them about the change. Processes like bill payment should remain the same, he said.

“You’re going to see no change whatsoever until February,” he said. “It should be a smooth process.”

St. John said that Recology would need to work to increase the amount of trash that is diverted away from landfills and is recycled. The current contract calls for a 50 percent diversion rate, and St. John said The Ratto Group is currently falling “slightly” short of that target.

Councilwoman Teresa Barrett said she hoped Recology would vastly improve the diversion rate, saying the current hauler “failed miserably” in meeting the minimum target.

“Our rate is 50 percent. Pittsburgh does 60 percent,” she said. “Cities all around the country do better than that. We think we’re in progressive California, we should be doing a lot better. I’d like to see that happen.”

Barrett also said she hoped Recology could do something to address the rat infestation along Water Street in downtown, where overflowing garbage cans have exacerbated the problem.

“A big enticement for those rats is the fact that there is a lot of overflow garbage just not being picked up regularly or soon enough,” she said. “The diversion of the food products is not being isolated or closed off so that the rats can’t get into it. I really want to see that addressed yesterday.”

Stemmler said Recology aimed to work with the city on these issues.

St. John said the city determined Recology was a good fit to take over the franchise agreement after a consultant studied the company’s finances and reviewed its history to ensure it hasn’t had any fines or citations in the past five years. The Ratto Group is required to pay for the consultant’s cost.

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)