The Turlock City Council will continue discussions on how to help alleviate the financial burden of rising garbage fees after a new solution was presented during Tuesday’s Council meeting.
The Council voted for garbage fees to increase as of April 1 to offset new state-mandated requirements calling on municipalities to help reduce California’s organic waste by 75% in the next three years. The resulting changes contributed to Turlock Scavenger increasing fees for the first time in six years.
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.
On Tuesday, the Council looked at two fee reduction options, lowering the franchise fee (the amount of money the City charges residents to manage the contract with Turlock Scavenger) to 5% and 10%.
Lowering the franchise fee to 5% would see a savings for residents of $3.47 monthly and $41.64 annually; with savings of $1.83 monthly and $21.96 annually reducing the fee to 10%.
The City would see a shortfall of $103,257 for the remainder of fiscal year 2021-22 with a cumulative shortfall of $991,393 over the next five years, with the 5% fee. The City would see an estimated shortfall of $3,019 for the remainder of fiscal year 2021-22 with a cumulative surplus of $883,030 over the next five years if they reduced the franchise fee to 10%.
After hearing the presentation on reducing franchise fees, Vice Mayor Pam Franco offered a third option — using federal COVID stimulus funds to subsidize the new rates for the next few years.
American Rescue Plan Act funds can be used by the City to assist households, small businesses, nonprofits and industries negatively impacted economically by the pandemic. The City can also use Rescue Plan Act funds to invest in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.
The Council has already spent ARPA funds to help with staffing shortages in public safety and other City departments, incentivize locals to shop and eat local and, most recently, to create a business development and assistance program.
“The public is saying we’re all hurting, we’re all having to pay these increases. We’ve all suffered with our jobs being lost or our businesses closed, whatever it may be. This is one gesture we can make,” said Mayor Amy Bublak.
Instead of voting on one of the proposed franchise fee reductions, the Council opted to come back to the discussion at a later date after Financial Director Isaac Moreno had a chance to create a plan using the ARPA funds alone or possibly ARPA funds, followed by a franchise fee reduction.
“I would love to have it come back looking at the ARPA fund. I love the idea of it being an option. I do adhere to that we need to be very conscientious of ARPA, but to me this seems like a direct way to give back and an easy mechanism to do so…but I would want it do be indefinitely funded…I want the resolution to be said that once ARPA is expended, then it is going to be further subsidized by the general fund because that’s still taxpayer money and this is another version we’re taxing a person,” said Council member Nicole Larson.