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City, county approve trash hike: Woeful recycling rate a big factor

Susan Wood

Come April 1, the cost of that big orange truck coming around to pick up the garbage to sort and handle will cost you more greenbacks.

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors and South Lake Tahoe City Council approved Tuesday a 27 percent hike in rates between this April and Jan. 1, 2007. The two governments – listed in a joint powers agreement with South Tahoe Refuse – met in session on the same day. A unanimous vote was made from both governments.

The current residential rate of $17.01 a month will go up to $18.46 next month; $20.04 the following year; then $21.76 beginning 2007. The senior rate will rise from $14.59 to $18.62 in the same time period. Commercial customers will pay $24.10 per cubic yard by the time 2007 rolls around. It’s up from the current rate of $18.61 a month.



Property owners in the city are required to have trash pickup.

The increases must come before the city because of the local government’s franchise agreement with South Tahoe Refuse. In 2004, the city received $448,000 in franchise revenue for the service provided by the refuse company – which operates on an annual budget of $1.6 million.



The refuse company cites escalating operating costs such as insurance and health costs as a reason for the rate hikes. It also needs to offset the price of its $11.5 million expansion to meet a state mandate for the city. The California Integrated Waste Management Authority had required the city to recycle half its waste by 2000. STR now recycles 38 percent. To meet the threshold, the city received an extension until the end of 2005 to come up with a solid plan. If it doesn’t comply, the city may face fines amounting to $10,000 a day.

“We’re the ones on the hook for potential fines if we don’t meet these goals,” Councilman John Upton said.

An idea for a new facility is to turn plastic bottles into plastic toys. Reuse has become an up-and-coming industry, with some Bay Area operations opening retail centers from the goods they transform. South Lake Tahoe may follow suit at its facility.

The city and refuse company hope the expansion plan that involves building a 32,300-square-foot structure in 2006 to process organic matter will do the trick. In part, shredding equipment is expected to reduce the volume of material bound for composting sites.

Most people at the public hearing agreed recycling is a noble goal. But it didn’t come without criticism. Some questioned the magnitude of the increase, bidding competition, length of time of the effective rates and reason for another fee increase in town.

To illustrate how overtaxed the citizens are, Bill Crawford took issue with the new emergency tax, sales tax hike and rise in rates for cable – which the city shares with Charter Communications under a franchise agreement.

“I appreciate the fact that we live in a super society. We’re drowning in trash. My concern is whenever we do something of this sort, we’re redistributing the wealth. Are we going to tax every utility? I think we’re chasing people out of the community,” he said.

Ty Baldwin opposes the exclusivity of JPAs.

“The one thing that came to mind was Halliburton,” Baldwin said before asking the city to waive its franchise fee. “You ought to call it a tax.”

The JPA legal counsel from Walnut Creek, Tom Bruen, said having a private enterprise is still the most preferred option.

“Compared to most jurisdictions, the franchise fees and rates are pretty reasonable,” he said. As an example, he used a 10 percent standard in California as its franchise fee rate. He said the going rate in the Bay Area is 15- to 20 percent. South Lake Tahoe’s is 5 percent.


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