The Fresno City Council voted to start the process to raise trash rates.
At Thursday’s meeting, the 5-2 vote starts the “Prop. 218” process. Fresno trash rates have not increased since 2009. The city has added 16,000 new accounts since then.
The proposed rate increase for solid waste will be gradual for a five-year period from 2024 through 2028. Customers with a 64-gallon gray trash cart will see a 114% increase (now $19.20 to $41.21 per month by 2028). The larger 96-gallon cart will see a 78% increase (now $25.37 to $45.24 in 2028).
Prices for additional carts would also increase.
Annalisa Perea, Mike Karbassi, Tyler Maxwell, Garry Bredefeld, and Nelson Esparza voted yes; Miguel Arias and Luis Chavez voted no.
The city will send protest cards to 119,000 residential trash customers — trash, recycling, sewer, and water are on the same city bill — by March 18, 2024. If a majority of customers return the cards — in essence, a veto —the rate hikes won’t take place.
The city said it would provide additional outreach to ratepayers.
Based on the result of the protest vote, the council would officially consider adopting the new rate hike on May 2, 2024, with the rates taking effect on July 1.
Public Utilities director Brock Buche told the council that increases in almost all aspects of trash collection service — new equipment and trucks, fuel, labor, state mandates, landfill fees — combined with no rate increases in 14 years required the city’s request now.
The solid waste division is part of a city “enterprise” fund, meaning its revenues are mainly from customer fees, and does not receive general city funds. The department can only charge for actual costs and is not allowed to profit.
Staff and service cuts could result if the hikes aren’t approved, Buche said.
“That’s a possibility. But (I) would be fighting very hard that we’re not eliminating staff. But if it comes down to it, … that’s a possibility,” Buche said.
Dipping into the general fund could be an option, which appeared to be a non-starter for councilmembers.
A $50 Million Shortfall
The city said there would be approximately a $50 million shortfall over five years without a rate increase.
Consultants tell the city that reserves — which the department has been using for the last four years — will be depleted this year. Buche said reserves will be built up by $1 million a year with the rate increase.
Several councilmembers spoke, saying investigating trash rate increases was long overdue. Buche said the department plans to come back every five years with rate adjustments.
“The onus is on us now as a decision-making body to rip the Band-Aid off and take a peek under the engine. What is that going to look like? And then next year, when we’ve done the studies to potentially make that decision. But I don’t want to delay this decision. I don’t want to hold it hostage. I think we need to move forward,” said Maxwell, the council president.
Maxwell is running unopposed for re-election in 2024.
Waiting longer would have a “detrimental ripple effect,” Perea said.
“This is one of those decisions where it’s not popular, but it’s the right thing to do. This is something that’s been kicked down the road for far too long and now it’s on our plate,” Perea said.
Esparza said he’s been “sounding the alarm” about possible rate increases since 2019.
Chavez explained his no vote in an email to GV Wire. He and Arias are running for Fresno County Supervisor District 3.
“With inflation and the escalating cost on food, PG&E, medicine, rent, high interest rates, gasoline and basic home necessities, especially for seniors and people on fixed income, I didn’t feel comfortable raising basic utilities rates. I’m looking forward to hearing from residents during this (Proposition) 218 process to determine how or if we make rate adjustments,” Chavez said.
Arias asked several questions of Buche during Thursday’s debate.
Bredefeld, running for Fresno County Supervisor District 2, explained his vote.
“I voted to allow the city of Fresno to make their case and explain to our residents why they feel a rate increase is needed. Our residents will then decide whether or not they agree. If they agree, it will come back before the Council in May and I will make my decision then about any rate increase, which I generally oppose,” Bredefeld said in an email.
The city held four community meetings in the past few weeks about the proposed rate increase. Buche said attendance was “sparse.”
There was no public comment about the rate hikes, either.
The city would provide a new service, a bulk-item pickup once a year for each customer, beyond the annual “Operation Clean-Up” pickup. That would start in July 2026. Also, Buche said the department would offer low-income discounts, similar to the city’s water program.
In a comparison of trash rates with other cities, only Bakersfield’s are lower. After the five-year rate hike, Fresno’s rate would be middle-of-the-pack.