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Council seeks alternatives to garbage fee increases
garbage fees
Turlock garbage customers won’t feel the full hit of new fee increases as the City Council voted to use federal COVID funds to subsidize the rates over the next five years (Journal file photo).

Turlockers will soon experience changes to the way they dispose of waste, but the City Council hopes to explore alternatives so that residents don’t feel the difference in their wallets. 

New state-mandated requirements are calling on municipalities to help reduce California’s organic waste by 75% in the next three years, and the resulting changes have contributed to Turlock Scavenger increasing fees for the first time in six years. 

Following an independent study by R3 Consulting Group, Turlock Scavenger found that compliance with the new Senate Bill 1383, coupled with inflated costs and a shortfall in revenue, would require the city’s garbage collection service to raise its fees in order to stay afloat. Turlock Scavenger’s fees have remained flat since 2015 and have remained well below the rates of comparable communities during that time, said Garth Schultz of R3CG. 

SB 1383 is meant to divert organics from the garbage stream, instead collecting them and directing them to more beneficial uses, such as composting. There are a variety of new requirements under the new mandate for residences and businesses alike, and the City will provide education and outreach until penalties begin to take effect in 2024.

The unfunded state mandate impacts the solid waste industry, forcing Turlock Scavenger to absorb the increases of operational costs to comply with each new requirement. The increases were approved in a 3-2 vote on Feb. 8, with Councilmembers Nicole Larson and Andrew Nosrati dissenting, with the caveat that new city manager Reagan Wilson explore reducing Turlock Scavenger’s franchise tax fee so that ratepayers won’t see as large of an increase in their bill by the time new rates are in effect April 1.

In residential areas, all trash carts will now be sized at 95 gallons, replacing the standard 32-gallon black carts and the available upgraded sizes of 64 gallons and 95 gallons. This will keep residents from placing trash in their recycling bins, Schultz said. The 2022 rate for the standardized 95-gallon trash cart is $33.01, an increase of $5.61 per month over the current 32-gallon trash cart service. 

Rate payers that opted to upgrade to the 64-gallon cart will realize a $3.19 reduction of their monthly charge in 2022. Rate payers that opted to upgrade to a 95-gallon cart will realize an $8.69 reduction of their monthly charge in 2022. Jan. 1, 2023 the rate will be $36.51, an increase of $3.50. Jan. 1, 2024 the rate will be $38.92, an increase of $2.41. Jan. 1, 2025 there will be an increase of $0.48 plus Refuse -Rate-Index, and Jan. 1, 2026 will see an increase of $0.72 plus RRI.

While some pointed to other municipalities which are experiencing rate increases of one to 20 percent while Turlock Scavenger is proposing an increase of over 100 percent, interim municipal services director Dan Madden pointed out that those cities have increased their rates more frequently than Turlock.

“Percentages are deceiving,” he said.

“I’ve been in this business for over 50 years…I live and breathe this business, this company, this tradition as far back as I can remember,” Turlock Scavenger president Alan Marchant said. “...With SB 1383, you know there’s going to be more of them.”

In addition to directing City staff to explore reducing franchise tax fees, the Council also asked them to explore different grants and funding to help implement SB 1383. The item will come before Council — with perhaps lower rates — at a future date.

“I think it’s just more about can people afford it at this point,” Mayor Amy Bublak said. “...When they don’t have the money, then they don’t pay and they do what they need to do to survive. We have to understand that and have to adapt to that. I don’t want to leave somebody hanging…We’ve got to find that happy medium somewhere.”