By Emilie Raguso
Faced with a projected shortfall of nearly $3 million for waste pickup services, Berkeley officials voted unanimously this week to increase residential pickup fees by almost 25 percent, beginning in July.
Customers will also see a new description on their tax bills, as “Zero Waste Services” will replace the category previously described as “Refuse.”
The city says it has not been charging enough to cover costs associated with recycling and organics pickup, which has contributed to the need for a rate increase.
Tuesday night, the City Council was advised either to increase fees by 24.7 percent come July, or phase in a 35.5 percent increase over three years.
Council members voted unanimously to take the former approach.
Council members Max Anderson, Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguín and Susan Wengraf had left for the night by the time of the vote, which took place after 11 p.m. Mayor Tom Bates said Wengraf previously told him she would need to leave by 11 p.m. to catch an early flight the next morning. No explanation was provided for the absence of the other council members.
Residents using the smallest bin will pay about $3 more, while those using a 20-gallon bin will pay nearly $5 more, and those with a 32-gallon bin will pay more than $7 extra for service. See the chart above for specifics.
The rate increase is expected to both fix the deficit and raise money to help rebuild and improve the transfer station, rebuild the Materials Recovery Facility, and conduct an outreach and education campaign about recycling.
The Zero Waste Fund also pays for Clean City Program services totaling nearly $3.5 million. The program includes street sweeping ($2.3 million), the cleanup of illegal dumping ($465,000), graffiti abatement ($331,000), and a contract to cover hand sweeping ($321,000).
Commercial rates will go up 2.5 percent. Officials explained that the smaller increase is due to the fact that those services are already mostly covered by existing resources, so there’s a much smaller gap to fill.
On March 28, the city will mail notices to residents about the rate change.
A public hearing is scheduled on May 20 about the fee increase. Rates will be adopted at that time if there’s no “majority protest” as defined by Proposition 218. New rates are slated to go into effect July 1.
City spokesman Matthai Chakko said the key issue is that the city had not previously adopted a rate structure that could cover the costs of the services it provides. This change is meant to fix that.
He also noted that Berkeley’s pickup fees are still very much in line with the average rates of nearby cities.
During a work session related to this issue in December, city staff said Berkeley might in the future look into cutting back some pickup services to every other week to reduce costs, which has worked in other cities.
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